Most domestic-violence cases are dismissed, victims left at risk
When a victim of domestic violence alerts authorities, that's just one step toward escaping the abusive relationship, and feeling safe doing so.
To complete the process, one may have to face an attacker in court, or recount the incident in a room full of strangers.
So the victim skips out, the case is dropped, and the door is wide open for another dangerous confrontation just days or weeks down the road.
In a June 2016 report issued by the Supreme Court Ad Hoc Committee on Domestic Violence, a New Jersey group pulled together by Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, it was found that in 2014, more than 79 percent of domestic violence complaints in municipal court were dismissed — much higher than the dismissal rate (46 percent) for other disorderly persons cases.
Nicole Morella, director of public policy for the New Jersey Coalition to End Domestic Violence, said she imagines the dismissal rate has not shifted much in the several months since the release of the report, which contained 30 recommendations to strengthen the state's response to domestic violence.
"I don't think that we've made any significant changes within that short period of time," she said.
Approved by an Assembly panel in mid-February, a package of bills would establish domestic violence training requirements for prosecutors, law enforcement, judges and judicial personnel.
Training recommendations were among the 30 issued by the ad hoc committee in 2016. The multidisciplinary group also recommended that municipal courts expand the use of domestic violence advocates in court proceedings.
Morella, who sat on the committee, says there was a gap spotted in the availability of services for victims on the local levels.
"As victims engage in the systems and in the procedures ... they can actually be putting themselves in more danger, especially if the system isn't holding the defendant accountable or even detaining the defendant in cases where there's real danger," she said. "It's important that victims have access to an advocate that can help them safety-plan and help them prepare and keep them informed of the process as it's going forward."
Morella says advocates, meanwhile, are pushing for a better assessment tool to be used by officials when determining whether an alleged domestic violence offender poses a risk if released pretrial.
According to Uniform Crime Report statistics from the State Police, there were 61,659 domestic violence offenses reported in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available. Arrests were made in 31 percent of the offenses.
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