In my practice as a New Jersey family lawyer, helping victims of domestic violence is a very rewarding part of my job. I have the ability to walk my clients through the process of putting legal protection in place for their future physical and psychological safety. For most, this includes the process of obtaining a restraining order.
Restraining orders are granted by a judge and prohibit one person from being within a certain distance of another. When the initial abuse allegedly takes place, a temporary restraining order may be obtained either through a New Jersey Superior Court or the local police department. However, the final step of the New Jersey restraining order process requires that within 10 days of the abuse incident, a woman must face her abuser in court. The strength it takes to initiate a restraining order can be insurmountable and the added stress of being in the same room with their accuser psychologically overwhelming. Add to it that abuser has the right to cross examine the victim, and sometimes chooses to do this himself and that stress can deter the victim from going to court. And then the abuser is off the hook.
This is the scenario that the NJ legislature is attempting to address with Bill A-3219,allowing victims to provide testimony against their abusers via close-circuit television. This would give victims some peace of mind knowing they would not have to sit in the same room as the abuser. Additionally, abusers would no longer have the ability to further intimidate their victims with the hope of controlling their testimony (or not testifying at all).
Some experts in constitutional law have raised the issue that this legislation violates the rights of the accused to face their accusers in court. However, this legislation recognizes that right, but allows the victim to testify in a less intimidating fashion. The accused will still be able to see and cross-examine the accuser. Assemblywoman Celeste Riley, one of the co-sponors of the bill addressed this issue in a recent statement, “This bill ensures a victim can have her day in court without being intimidated by her abuser.”
The option for a victim to testify via the closed circuit system is not automatic. The right to do so will be based on judge’s discretion. A separate motion must be filed by and considered by the court. As stated in the bill, “Closed circuit testimony would be allowed if the court determines by clear and convincing evidence that there is a substantial likelihood that the witness would suffer severe emotional or mental distress if required to testify in open court.”
During the month of October extra attention is paid to issues of domestic violence and here in New Jersey, our legislature is introducing several bills to support victims. My staff and I look forward to having these measures in place to help our clients and further protect them from suffering another day at the hands of their abuser.