Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Joseph Lagana, Vince Mazzeo, Gabriela Mosquera and Valerie Vainieri Huttle to make it more difficult for first-time domestic violence offenders to enter pretrial intervention (PTI), and thus avoid jail time, was approved by the General Assembly on Thursday, giving it final legislative approval.
"The Ray Rice case simply highlighted a larger failing of the criminal justice system in New Jersey," said Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic). "This bill is about making sure that those who commit acts of domestic violence understand the severity of their crimes. More importantly, however, it's about righting a wrong in pursuit of justice for the many who have suffered in silence."
The bill (A-4016) would amend current law to make assaulting a victim of domestic violence, or threatening to do so, a crime of the third degree with no presumption of non-imprisonment, meaning that incarceration could be considered as a punishment for the offender. Under the law, such assault is a crime of the third degree, which ordinarily is punishable by three to five years in prison, a fine of up to $15,000 or both, but there is a presumption of non-imprisonment for first-time offenders.
The bill also provides that the prosecutor and the court should give additional weight to a domestic violence victim's position on whether a defendant should enter PTI.
Furthermore, a defendant charged with a third or fourth degree crime involving domestic violence would be required to enter a plea of guilty before being considered for participation in PTI. Individuals charged with a domestic violence offense who committed the offense while subject to a temporary or permanent restraining order and defendants charged with a fourth degree crime of contempt of a domestic violence order would also have to plead guilty before being considered for PTI.
"With this legislation, our state tells offenders that their behavior will not be tolerated," said Mazzeo (D-Atlantic). "We stand with the victims of domestic violence, and this legislation sends a clear message to our children, letting them know that - regardless of what they may have seen or experienced - domestic violence is absolutely unacceptable."
"Witnessing my mother have to survive abuse taught me at a very early age that domestic violence has a lasting impact on families and entire communities," said Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester), a sponsor of several other pieces of domestic violence legislation. "Stopping the cycle of abuse in the home starts with unequivocally declaring that it is a serious crime that can bear serious consequences - not sometimes, but always."
"Whether it's the first time or the fifth time doesn't matter when we're talking about violent crime. We need to consider the very real, very dangerous implications of automatically giving second chances to individuals who abuse in the home, particularly when statistics show that if they've done it once, they will do it again," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "This bill will help ensure that pretrial intervention serves its intended purpose of providing rehabilitative services for nonviolent criminals, not allowing those who engage in domestic violence to harm others without facing the appropriate consequences."
The bill would also amend current law to add committing an act of domestic violence while a child under age 16 is present and committing repeated acts of domestic violence as aggravating factors for the court to consider in imposing a sentence.
Under the bill, the definition of "domestic violence" is expanded to include criminal coercion, robbery, contempt of a domestic violence order that constitutes a crime or disorderly persons offense and any other crime involving the risk of death or serious bodily injury to a person protected under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991.
The measure, which both houses passed unanimously, now heads to the governor's desk.