As 2010 was drawing to a close, New Jersey lawmakers were busy adopting bills to improve the rights of victims of violent crimes including victims of domestic violence.
The first bill, which was signed into law last month by Gov. Chris Christie, extended the time-frame under which victims of violent crimes, including domestic violence, could, under certain circumstances, collect compensation benefits from the State through the Victims of Crime Compensation Office (VCCO).
Previously violent crime victims or, in some cases, their dependents and families, could receive State benefits to cover expenses incurred as a result of the crime for a period of five years after the crime was committed. Those expenses may include physical and mental medical bills and relocation costs.
The new law recognizes that the duration of criminal proceedings cannot be predicted and could actually take longer than the five-year time-frame for collecting benefits. Under the new law, if a victim has to relocate or seeks counseling out of fear of recurrence of the violence while the case is being resolved, the VCCO could approve additional compensation benefits if it takes more than five years to resolve that case. In order to be eligible for compensation, a victim or the family of a victim must report the crime within three months and file a claim application within two years of the crime. (1)
The second bill is aimed specifically at victims of domestic violence. This bill recognizes self-defense as an allowable justification in some cases where the victim uses force to protect him or herself from an abuser. This bill would allow such things as restraining orders, the reasons for such orders, any violation of the orders or commission of domestic violence by the person the restraining order was issued against to be considered when determining if force used by the victim against the abuser was justified. (2)
Domestic violence continues to be a growing concern. A report issued late last year noted that 73,709 incidents of domestic violence were reported in New Jersey in 2009, representing a 4% increase from the previous year, despite the fact that overall violent crimes in the State were down 4% for the same period. (3)