Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Gabriela Mosquera, Paul Moriarty, Joseph Lagana, Andrew Zwicker and Joann Downey to allow victims and witnesses of domestic violence and sexual assault to testify against their abusers via closed circuit television under certain circumstances was passed in the General Assembly on Thursday.
“Having to recount an abusive relationship in front of your abuser can be unnerving for an individual who’s been battered,” said Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester). “For children who may have witnessed their mother being abused, it can be equally frightening to have to testify in a courtroom with the abuser, especially if the abuser is a parent. Permitting victims and young witnesses to testify via closed circuit television allows them to confront their abusers without fear.”
The bill (A-1199) would permit witnesses and victims to testify against the defendant via closed circuit television in prosecutions for a crime involving domestic violence, certain sex crimes or crimes involving the abuse or neglect of a child.
“Domestic abuse is traumatic. Some victims are so frightful of their abusers that they would rather not press charges or even testify in court for fear of retribution,” said Moriarty (D-Camden/Gloucester). “This bill makes it easier for victims to come forward and get justice.”
“Oftentimes victims struggle over whether or not to report their abusers because they fear for their safety,” said Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic). “This bill would help victims hold their abusers accountable without fear of doing so under their glare in a courtroom.”
“This is the right thing to do for victims who have already suffered too much,” said Zwicker (D-Hunterdon/Somerset/Mercer/Middlesex). “We need to take whatever humane steps we can if there’s a substantial likelihood that the witness would suffer severe emotional or mental distress if required to testify in open court.”
“The criminal justice system works most effectively when witnesses and victims can provide the testimony necessary to assess the facts of a case,” said Downey (D-Monmouth). “When these individuals have a means of talking without fear, it helps ensure that the judicial process functions the way it should.”
Under current law, the court may order the taking of the testimony of a witness 16 years of age or younger on closed circuit television in prosecutions for aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault, aggravated criminal sexual contact, criminal sexual contact, human trafficking involving sexual activity, child abuse or in any action alleging an abused or neglected child if the court finds that there is a substantial likelihood that the witness would suffer severe emotional or mental distress if required to testify in open court.
This bill would expand current law to encompass victims and witnesses of any age, and provide that the court, in granting an order to allow closed circuit testimony, shall assure that: the victim or witness will testify under oath; the victim or witness will submit to cross-examination by the defendant’s attorney; and the defendant, jury, and judge will be permitted to observe the demeanor of the victim or witness when making testimonial statements using closed circuit television.
In addition, the measure clarifies certain procedural provisions, including that the defendant’s counsel would be present in the same room as the victim or witness at the taking of testimony on closed circuit television, and that the defendant and defendant’s attorney may confer privately with each other during the testimony by a separate audio system.
Under the bill, the video portion of the closed circuit testimony would not be recorded and would not be part of the record on appeal. Only the audio portion of the testimony would be recorded. Such audio recording could be part of the record on appeal, depending on the age of the victim or witness and the order of the court.
The bill gained unanimous Assembly approval.