Have you filed a domestic violence case against an abusive partner in New Jersey, only to have your case dismissed by the court? If so, you are not alone. According to 2015 New Jersey Courts data, 80 percent of New Jersey municipal domestic violence cases are dismissed before ever reaching trial. That is twice the number of dismissals granted than for other disorderly persons offenses, such as drunk driving.
Prosecuting Domestic Violence Cases
Domestic violence cases can be especially hard to prosecute. One of the biggest obstacles for prosecutors is the lack of physical evidence in these types of cases. Most domestic violence cases hinge on only victim testimony. For many victims living in constant fear for their lives, testifying is not even an option.
Given the nature of domestic violence, many of its victims may return to the abusive relationship many times before leaving for good. This often results in a cycle of filing and granting of restraining orders, which are routinely dropped and ignored when the victim allows the abuser to return to the home.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys also frequently reach agreements or deals that result in dropping criminal charges against the accused abuser. In exchange for jail time, accused domestic violence offenders may enter pre-trial intervention programs, including anger management training.
Better Training Could Save Lives
Advocates for domestic violence victims, including the New Jersey Coalition to End Domestic Violence, view better police training as a key step in reducing the number of domestic violence case dismissals. With better investigation of domestic violence complaints by police, witness testimony may no longer be the only evidence available to the prosecutor. In addition to gathering witness testimony on the scene, police can take photos of the injuries and detail the scene when responding to 9-1-1 domestic violence calls.
The New Jersey Supreme Court has begun to examine the state’s handling of domestic violence cases by forming an Ad-Hoc Committee on Domestic Violence, which includes representatives from the judiciary, lawyers, and victim advocates. The Ad-Hoc Committee continues to make recommendations on ways to overhaul the handling of domestic violence cases in the state. Scheduling separate days or dockets for domestic violence cases and equipping victims with better resources are two suggestions that already are being implemented in Atlantic City and Hammonton.