The 1991 New Jersey Domestic Violence Act (N.J.S.A 2C: 25-17) established collateral action against perpetrators of acts of domestic violence increasing procedures of law enforcement protocol, providing criminal and civil court protections involving a 2 court system, expanding victim services from immediate protection to on-going accountability towards the victim.
New Jersey follows a unique process in criminal justice and legal proceedings; crimes are not charged as felonies or misdemeanors but are prosecuted solely based on the severity of the crime, while upholding mandated punishments according to the severity of the offense. The nature of the offense and circumstances surrounding the crime will determine if you will be criminally processed in a Municipal Court or the state’s Superior Court. In cases involving domestic violence, a guilty person is seen in both.
Law enforcement has an obligation to respond to reports of domestic violence with priority. Once a victim reports an offense, the responding officers must determine if there is probable cause to make an arrest of the offender (N.J.S.A 2C:2527a(1). Any indications, be it verbal or physical pain by the victim or that weapons are present the offender will be taken into immediate custody. At the victims request the officer can initiate a Temporary Restraining Order or the victim will be assisted in making contact with the Superior Civil Court, Family division, often to a Domestic Violence Hearing Officer, to begin the process of obtaining a protection order. Only a Judge can approve a retraining order, either temporary or permanent. It is possible that the defendant may be given bail, or released on their own recognizance within a few hours following arrest.
Once granted the Temporary Restraining Order bars the perpetrator from having any contact with the victim for a period of 10 ten days, by which time a hearing at the Superior Court will be set. Law enforcement notifies the perpetrator of the court hearing. If the defendant fails to attend the hearing, it is likely a Final Restraining Order will be established. The Court will make an effort to locate the defendant prior to make all final decisions because the order may bare substantial losses to the defendant.
The victim’s impute in the Civil Court proceedings weigh heavily on the final outcome. In addition to maintaining financial obligations of support, establishing who will remain in the residence, matters relating to children if applicable, the order of the court will stipulate what contact, if any is to be made between the victim and the defendant. The defendant will be responsible for any court costs and may be ordered to pay a $50.-$500.00 fee to the victims fund. In cases of financial hardship, this fee can be waived. Only a victim may have the Restraining Order revoked.
The criminal proceedings will often be conducted in a state Municipal Court as a Disorderly Persons Offense, although a higher court might hear it if it is not a first offense, or circumstances related to the case and defendant demand a higher penalty. If found guilty, the defendant may be ordered to attend therapy, have a psychiatric evaluation, under go any treatment ordered, be ordered to probation, provide restitution to the victim in addition to facing New Jersey’s mandated penalties.
A Disorderly Person’s conviction requires a minimum of 10 hours of community service, possible incarceration, and fine’s ordered to be paid to the Crime Victims Compensation Board as well as the Safe Neighborhood Service Fund. A defendant ends up paying in both courts. 2nd -4th degree crimes increase the penalties and obligations of the defendant. Domestic Violence is a serious offense against another person- it is a crime that is not taken lightly by any measure. Survivors experiences on-going and lasting consequences of emotional, psychological and in some cases physical impairment. Perpetrators of domestic violence have an obligation to restore their victims back to their best capacity. The New Jersey Domestic Violence Act serves as a guideline to begin that reparation.