Law to Help Domestic Violence Survivors

Unchained wrote a bill that was passed into law in New Jersey in 2014 (S1524/A1676) to help domestic violence survivors obtain restraining orders against their abusers (because most Unchained clients are domestic violence survivors).

Domestic violence survivors typically need to prove they have been subjected to a pattern of abuse, to show the abuse is likely to happen again without a restraining order in place. The best way for them to prove that pattern is to show copies of the prior temporary restraining orders they have obtained against their abuser and copies of police reports that accompanied those orders.

However, crime victims previously were required to pay a fee for their records, which not only was insulting to crime victims but also left open the possibility that a domestic violence survivor who could not afford the fee would therefore not seek a life-saving restraining order.

Also, previously a victim’s request for her/his own crime records, itself became a public record that nearly anyone, including an abuser, could access. This obviously could have put domestic violence survivors in additional and unnecessary danger.

Under the law Unchained wrote:

  • Crime victims in New Jersey no longer pay a fee to obtain copies of their own crime records, and
  • Crime victims’ requests for their own records are no longer public.

STATUS

The Assembly unanimously approved A1676 on May 22, 2014.

The Senate unanimously approved S1524 on June 12, 2014.

The Governor signed the bill into law on July 30, 2014.

SPONSORS

The legislation had bipartisan support in New Jersey; its sponsors included the Democratic and Republican leaders in the Senate and the Republican leader in the Assembly.

The bill’s primary sponsors were:

  • Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen, Senate Majority Leader)
  • Sen. Tom Kean Jr. (R-Union, Senate Minority Leader)
  • Asm. Gordon M. Johnson (D-Bergen)
  • Asm. Jon Bramnick (R-Union, Assembly Minority Leader)
  • Asm. Jay Webber (R-Morris)
  • Asw. Nancy F. Munoz (R-Union)
  • Asm. Anthony M. Bucco (R-Morris)
  • Asm. Carmelo G. Garcia (D-Hudson)
  • Asw. Caroline Casagrande (R-Monmouth)

SUPPORTERS

The legislation was endorsed and supported by organizations across New Jersey and the US, including:

  • ACLU of New Jersey
  • New Jersey Foundation for Open Government
  • New Jersey Crime Victims’ Law Center
  • New Jersey Coalition for Battered Women
  • AHA Foundation
  • National Crime Victim Law Institute

Additionally, more than 1,000 people signed an online petition on change.org in support of the bill.

ACTUAL LANGUAGE OF THE NEW JERSEY BILL

The legislation is not a long or complicated piece of legislation. It reads like this (with additions italicized and deletions bracketed):

Section 3 of P.L.2012, c.27 (C.52:4B-36.2) is amended to read as follows:

3. Pursuant to Article I, paragraph 22 of the New Jersey Constitution[, no]:

a. A crime victim shall not be required to pay the maintenance, support, rehabilitation, or other costs arising from the imprisonment or commitment of a victimizer as a result of the crime; and

b. A crime victim shall not be charged any fee otherwise prescribed by law or regulation to obtain copies of a the victim’s own records to which the victim is entitled to access as provided in section 1 of P.L.1995, c.23 (C.47:1A-1.1), including, but not limited to, any law enforcement agency report, domestic violence offense report, and temporary or permanent restraining order.

(cf: P.L.2012, c.27, s.3)

The legislation also amends Section 1 of P.L.1995, c.23 (C.47:1A-1.1) to add this item to the list of records “deemed to be confidential”:

any written request by a crime victim for a record to which the victim is entitled to access as provided in this section, including, but not limited to, any law enforcement agency report, domestic violence offense report, and temporary or permanent restraining order;

Additionally, the legislation amends Section 6 of P.L.2001, c.404 (C.47:1A-5) as follows:

b. (1) A copy or copies of a government record may be 16 purchased by any person upon payment of the fee prescribed by law 17 or regulation. Except as otherwise provided by law or regulation 18 and except as provided in paragraph (2) of this subsection, the fee 19 assessed for the duplication of a government record embodied in the 20 form of printed matter shall be $0.05 per letter size page or smaller, 21 and $0.07 per legal size page or larger. If a public agency can 22 demonstrate that its actual costs for duplication of a government 23 record exceed the foregoing rates, the public agency shall be 24 permitted to charge the actual cost of duplicating the record. The 25 actual cost of duplicating the record, upon which all copy fees are 26 based, shall be the cost of materials and supplies used to make a 27 copy of the record, but shall not include the cost of labor or other 28 overhead expenses associated with making the copy except as 29 provided for in subsection c. of this section. Access to electronic 30 records and non-printed materials shall be provided free of charge, 31 but the public agency may charge for the actual costs of any needed 32 supplies such as computer discs.

(2) No fee shall be charged to a victim of a crime for a copy or 34 copies of a record to which the crime victim is entitled to access, as 35 provided in section 1 of P.L.1995, c.23 (C.47:1A-1.1).