The New Jersey Supreme Court Committee on Domestic Violence released it’s final report recently regarding recommendations relating to domestic violence matters with regards to resources, education, training, and the interactions between Municipal Courts (which handle disorderly persons (misdemeanor) level cases) and Superior Courts (which handle indictable (felony) level cases and restraining orders).
The types of charges handled in Municipal Court include simple assault, harassment, and disorderly conduct relating to domestic violence matters. These are known as disorderly persons offenses (misdemeanors) which will result in a permanent criminal charge on your record if convicted. In Superior Court, indictable (felony) cases are handled including aggravated assault, terroristic threats, stalking, sexual assault, and even homicide. The Superior Court, Family Division also handles all permanent restraining order hearings and violations of a restraining order (contempt).
The Supreme Court committee on domestic violence was created by Chief Justice Stuart Rabner in February 2015 to examine current domestic violence laws, resources available to domestic violence victims, the interaction between the courts system in NJ, potential treatment for domestic violence offenders, methods for risk assessment and resources for education and training on domestic violence issues. The committee was composed of members from all three branches of government, the private sector, advocacy groups, and attorneys who both represent clients charged with domestic violence offenses and victims of domestic violence. As a result, politicians, judges, prosecutors, and criminal defense attorneys were all members of the committee.
The Committee recommendations included the following:
- Expanding the use of domestic violence advocates for Municipal Court cases
- Developing court rules and procedures that would allow domestic violence victims in high-risk cases to testify in hearings without actually being present in court
- Expanding current domestic violence laws to include cyber-harassment as a basis for filing a restraining order
- Expanding therapeutic programs for children exposed to domestic violence
The committee examined the court’s management and adjudication of domestic violence cases and found it to be fair.
As a criminal defense attorney, the only issue I see is with recommendation #2 which could allow alleged domestic violence victims to testify in court without actually being present. This recommendation could violate the confrontation clause which allows defendant’s to confront their accusers and could potentially violate a defendant’s right to due process. I understand the need to protect high risk victims but the courthouse is highly guarded by sheriff’s officers and there are not really valid safety concerns in terms of appearing in court to testify.