Downey Bill Package to Strengthen Domestic Violence Protections Advances

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Bill would enhance domestic violence training for judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officers; amend domestic violence definition to ensure offenders not spared penalties

(TRENTON) - An Assembly panel on Monday approved a four-bill legislative package sponsored by Assemblywoman Joann Downey to better protect victims of domestic violence.

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 first three bills were 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 first 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.

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.

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.

“Domestic violence cases are rarely simple. Victims might make decisions that seem to go against their own interests, when in reality they are means of survival,” said Downey (D-Monmouth). “Prosecutors need to understand this so they can properly represent and advocate for these clients.”

The second bill (A-860) would require in-person, instructor-led training in the handling and investigation of domestic violence reports for law enforcement officers. The bill would also require training for assistant county prosecutors involved in the handling of domestic violence cases. Currently, law enforcement officers are required to attend an initial training within 90 days or appointment or transfer, as well as an annual in-service training. Many officers meet this annual in-service training requirement solely through on-line training methods. This bill would require in-person training over online training.

All bills were released by the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

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