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Riley, Spencer, Vainieri Huttle Package Would Create Self-Defense Provision, Increase Penalties for Violating Restraining Orders, Enhance Lease Protections for Victims

A three-bill package Assemblywomen Celeste M. Riley, L. Grace Spencer and Valerie Vainieri Huttle sponsored to bolster the protections and rights of domestic violence victims cleared a key Assembly panel today. The Assemblywomen said the comprehensive package is designed to help deter domestic violence by making penalties more stringent while furthering the rights of victims.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, an estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year. With 85 percent of domestic violence victims being women, it’s estimated that one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.

The first measure (A-1491) sponsored by Riley (D-Salem/Cumberland/Gloucester) is aimed at deterring future acts of domestic violence by imposing certain bail restrictions for anyone charged with contempt of a domestic violence restraining order. The bill would bar anyone charged with violating a domestic violence-related restraining order from posting the customary 10 percent bail option. The committee approved the bill by a vote of 4-1-1.

“In some cases today, restraining order violators can get away with posting only $50 bail,” Riley said. “Given the emotional and physical trauma that victims have already been subjected to, they should be able to receive some measure of comfort knowing our laws do everything possible to protect their safety in the future. By upgrading penalties for individuals who have victimized an intimate partner, we are sending a clear message that domestic disputes that result in violence will be treated with the utmost seriousness.”

The second measure (A-2258) sponsored by Spencer (D-Essex/Union) would create a self-defense justification for domestic violence victims. Spencer’s legislation would make evidence surrounding a domestic violence restraining order admissible and relevant to determining if use of force to protect oneself was justifiable by an individual protected by the order. The bill was approved by a vote of 6-0.

“Victims of domestic violence have already had their personal rights violated, so we must ensure that if they are simply trying to protect themselves from an abuser that all of the facts of the circumstances involved are considered,” Spencer said. “Changing the law to ensure all facts related to domestic violence are carefully reviewed is paramount to protecting the rights of thousands of New Jerseyans who are victims of domestic violence.”

The third bill (A-2891) sponsored by Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) would extend protections for domestic abuse victims who have had to break a lease. It would also prevent a landlord from refusing to lease to or breaking a lease of a tenant who has had to terminate a previous rental agreement based on their or a household member’s status as a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. The committee approved the bill by a vote of 5-1.

“Too often acts of domestic violence go unreported and further jeopardize the welfare and safety of the victims of these heinous acts,” Vainieri Huttle said. “No one should have to live in fear, especially when they are in their own home. By allowing victims of abuse to break a leasing agreement and start anew without being penalized by future landlords, we are encouraging victims to take a stand and every precaution to protect themselves.”

All three measures cleared the Assembly Judiciary Committee.