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New Jersey lawmakers targets domestic violence

A proposed bill in the New Jersey legislature would increase the penalties for domestic violence. It would amend state laws to make domestic violence third-degree crimes, and increase the chances of someone convicted of domestic violence going to prison. If a child under 16 is present during the alleged abuse, that would be an aggravating factor.

This proposal comes almost a year after videos of football player Ray Rice hitting his then-fiancee and dragging her unconscious out of an elevator at Atlantic City's Revel Casino last February became international news. Prosecutors allowed Rice to participate in a 12-month pretrial intervention program rather than face trial. If he completes it successfully, the charge will be removed from his record.

These PTI programs are rarely offered to those charged with any type of violent crime. However, if the bill becomes law, the defendant would have to plead guilty before being considered. Rice pleaded not guilty for applying for the program.

Versions of the bill have been introduced both in the state assembly and in the senate. The Camden assemblywoman who is co-sponsoring the bill in that house says that she's motivated by her experience as a child seeing her mother suffer abuse. A woman who works with survivors of domestic violence says she believes that an important part of the bill is "that there would be no presumption of non-imprisonment for a crime of assault against a victim of domestic violence."

She acknowledges that a PTI program might be appropriate in some cases, but that "it requires a great deal of thought and diligence" to determine when it should replace jail time. She acknowledges that it sometimes takes trained professionals to determine when a person was the primary aggressor in a domestic violence situation and when he or she was "arrested for becoming aggressive as a way to protect themselves while in a violent episode."

A conviction for domestic violence can have serious and long-lasting effects on a person's life, career and ability to see his or her children. No matter what the situation, no domestic violence charge should be taken lightly. People arrested for domestic violence should seek legal guidance to help ensure that their rights are protected as they go through the criminal justice system.

Source: The Daily Journal, "Bill would toughen NJ’s domestic violence laws" William Sokolic, Courier-Post, Dec. 28, 2014

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