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Assembly Democratic Bill to Strengthen Domestic Violence Protections, Enhance Criminal Justice Response Advanced by Senate Panel

Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Nancy Pinkin, John McKeon, Shavonda Sumter, Pamela Lampitt, Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Benjie Wimberly to better protect victims of domestic violence was advanced Thursday by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

A 2015 report from the state courts showed 32,691 domestic violence complaints filed in family court for the entire state – a 950 case-increase from the previous year, according to a media report. In 2016, there were about 52 domestic violence related deaths in the state.

The bill was recommended by the Supreme Court Ad Hoc Committee on Domestic Violence. The committee, made up of judges, lawyers and victim advocates, was formed in 2015 to examine domestic violence laws, policies and procedures and make recommendations.

The bill (A-317) would direct the Administrative Director of the Courts to develop and approve a training course and a curriculum for all municipal court judges, Superior Court judges responsible for the adjudication of domestic violence matters, and judicial personnel involved with the intake and processing of domestic violence complaints.

“One in three women and one in four men have experienced physical violence by a domestic partner,” said Pinkin (D-Middlesex). “These numbers are staggering and demonstrate how pervasive this is, and how important it is that the professionals tasked with responding and handling these cases are adequately trained so victims are protected and perpetrators are punished.”

“There is no one-size fits all approach to domestic violence cases,” said McKeon (D-Essex/Morris). “Supplementing the training that judges already receive can help ensure that they are equipped to preside over these cases with the best interest of the victim and justice in mind.”

Current law requires all judges and judicial personnel attend initial domestic violence training within 90 days of appointment or transfer and to attend annual in-service training. This bill would expand on this training.

“Trust in the system is paramount. Without it, victims suffer,” said Sumter (D-Passaic/Bergen). “These judges bear a great responsibility. Enhancing their training can help build greater trust in the system so that victims feel confident in coming forward and bringing their abusers to justice.”

“Judges are presiding over cases with life-and-death implications,” said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). “This additional information can help them better navigate these often complicated cases so that they are making the best decisions for victims and their families.”

Under the bill, all such judges and judicial personnel would participate in core training regarding issues such as the dynamics of domestic violence, the impact of domestic violence on children, trauma-informed danger assessments, batterer intervention and anger management programs, and domestic violence risk factors and lethality.

“Most domestic violence cases begin at the municipal level, but current law but does not require domestic violence training for municipal prosecutors,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “Being able to understand the complexities of domestic violence can help ensure justice is served.”

“For many domestic violence victims, their first interaction with the criminal justice system is through the police officer responding to their call,” Wimberly (D-Passaic/Bergen). “We have to ensure that our officers are prepared to respond with the sensitivity that these cases require.”

The bill was previously approved 74-0 by the General Assembly on May 24 and now moves on to a vote by the full Senate.