The law is always catching up to the truth. In 1991, the New Jersey State Legislature established the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. In doing so, it declared that domestic violence is a serious crime against society. It also caught up to the truth which was that although many of the criminal statutes of the time were applicable to acts of domestic violence, the response of the law enforcement and judicial systems were affected by societal attitudes. As a result, such acts received different treatment than similar crimes when they occurred in a domestic violence context.
What is domestic violence?
With the New Jersey Domestic Violence Act, the Legislature had found that thousands of New Jersey residents were being beaten, tortured and even killed by their spouses or cohabitants on a frighteningly regular basis. Women were being assaulted while pregnant. Victims came from all social and economic backgrounds. Spousal abuse quite often correlated to child abuse. A child may even be physically unharmed but exposure to domestic violence still has long-lasting and devastating repercussions. Even the elderly and disabled can be victims of domestic violence.
How does the New Jersey Domestic Violence Act help victims?
One of the initial and most important effects of the New Jersey Domestic Violence Act was the identification of the training needs required for police and judicial personnel to enforce it. Victims of domestic violence would then be able to count on two forms of relief provided by the act: civil relief and criminal relief. Criminal relief allows the victim to file criminal complaints against the abuser. Civil relief involves obtaining a restraining order.
What is the Domestic Violence Procedures Manual?
The Domestic Violence Procedures Manual is the guidebook for those who enforce the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, basically law enforcement and the judicial system. Its procedures and guideless are updated as needed to accommodate statutory and Court Rule revisions. It was first circulated by the Supreme Court and the Attorney General in 1991.
Here are some of the most important features of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, as presented in the Domestic Violence Procedures Manual:
Restraining Orders – The process of entering a Temporary Restraining Order in the applicable courts is described in detail. This is followed by the steps leading to a Final Restraining Order. For more on Restraining Orders, see here.
Protected Classes – All victims of domestic violence protected by the Domestic Violence Act are strictly defined. This includes minors, the elderly and the disabled.
Definition of Domestic Violence – Any criminal offense committed against any of the aforementioned protected person is considered an act of domestic violence. This includes everything from harassment to sexual assault, all the way up and including homicide. Stalking has been added as an enumerated offense, which means it is singled out and defined.
Possible Reliefs – This refers to a list of suggested outcomes for both the victim and the defendant. The victim may be granted sole possession of a residence or temporary custody of children. He or she may receive punitive or compensatory damages. Meanwhile, the defendant could be prohibited from returning to the scene of the violence or making contact of any sort with the victim. Psychiatric evaluation and weapons seizure are also possibilities.
Is the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act the be-all and end-all when it comes to protection from domestic violence? Of course not. The mental and emotional ramifications comprise a whole other discussion (See here). If you are a victim of domestic violence, it is important to speak to an attorney with the utmost discretion and compassion, both of which are absolute prerequisites when it comes to family law.