Mosquera, Moriarty, Lagana & Zwicker Bill to Help Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Victims Seek Justice against their Abusers Continues Advancing

"This is the right thing to do for victims who have already suffered too much," said Zwicker (D-Somerset/Mercer/Middlesex). "We need to take whatever humane steps we can if there's a substantial likelihood that the witness would suffer severe emotional or mental distress if required to testify in open court."


(TRENTON) - Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Gabriela Mosquera, Paul Moriarty, Joseph Lagana and Andrew Zwicker to allow victims and witnesses of domestic violence and sexual assault to testify against their abusers via closed circuit television under certain circumstances gained approval from an Assembly panel on Monday.

"Having to recount an abusive relationship in front of your abuser can be unnerving for an individual who's been battered," said Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester). "For children who may have witnessed their mother being abused, it can be equally frightening to have to testify in a courtroom with the abuser, especially if the abuser is a parent. Allowing victims and young witnesses to testify via closed circuit television allows them to confront their abusers without fear."

The bill (A-1199) permits witnesses and victims to testify against the defendant via closed circuit television in prosecutions for a crime involving domestic violence, certain sex crimes or crimes involving the abuse or neglect of a child.

"Domestic abuse is traumatic. Some victims are so frightful of their abusers that they would rather not press charges or even testify in court for fear of retribution," said Moriarty (D-Camden/Gloucester). "This bill makes it easier for victims to come forward and get justice."

"Often times, victims struggle over whether or not to report their abusers because they fear for their safety," said Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic). "This bill would help victims hold their abusers accountable without fear of doing so under their glare in a courtroom." 

"This is the right thing to do for victims who have already suffered too much," said Zwicker (D-Somerset/Mercer/Middlesex). "We need to take whatever humane steps we can if there's a substantial likelihood that the witness would suffer severe emotional or mental distress if required to testify in open court."

Under current law, the court may order the taking of the testimony of a witness 16 years of age or younger on closed circuit television in prosecutions for aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault, aggravated criminal sexual contact, criminal sexual contact, human trafficking involving sexual activity, child abuse, or in any action alleging an abused or neglected child if the court finds that there is a substantial likelihood that the witness would suffer severe emotional or mental distress if required to testify in open court. 

This bill expands current law to encompass victims and witnesses of any age, and provides that the court, in granting an order to allow closed circuit testimony, shall assure that: the victim or witness will testify under oath; the victim or witness will submit to cross-examination by the defendant's attorney; and the defendant, jury, and judge will be permitted to observe the demeanor of the victim or witness when making testimonial statements using closed circuit television. The bill, as amended, eliminates the provision in current law authorizing the trial judge to file a motion seeking closed circuit testimony, as these motions are properly filed by the victim or witness seeking such testimony, rather than the judge.

In addition, it clarifies certain procedural provisions, including that the defendant's counsel would be present in the same room as the victim or witness at the taking of testimony on closed circuit television, and that the defendant and defendant's attorney would be able to confer privately with each other during the testimony by a separate audio system.

The bill provides that if testimony is taken on closed circuit television, all audio and video transmissions, except private conversations between the defendant and the defendant's attorney, shall be recorded and thereafter shall be subject to the following provisions:

  • If the victim or witness is 18 years of age or older at the time of the court proceedings, any recording of the audio or video portion of the closed circuit testimony shall constitute part of the record on appeal, unless the court orders otherwise for good cause shown upon motion of the parties;
  • If the victim or witness is under the age of 18 at the time of the court proceedings, any recording of the audio or video portion of the closed circuit testimony shall not constitute part of the record on appeal and shall be deemed confidential and not available to the public, unless the court orders otherwise for good cause shown upon motion of the parties. In making this determination, the court shall consider potential trauma or stigma to the victim or witness. A transcript of the audio portion of the closed circuit testimony shall constitute part of the record on appeal, subject to any personal identification safeguards.

The bill defines "closed circuit television" as: "any closed-circuit, videoconferencing or other audio-visual electronic technology capable of producing a simultaneous, one-way broadcast from a victim or witness to a defendant in a separate physical location. The technology shall allow for the live observation of the victim or witness by the defendant, jury, and judge during the course of testimony or cross-examination, while excluding a victim or witness from directly hearing or viewing the defendant during the proceedings."

The bill also adds human trafficking involving sexual activity, a crime involving domestic violence which involves sexual activity, and abuse or neglect of the child to the provisions of current law that protect the identity of victims under the age of 18 in certain prosecutions by requiring that the name, address, and identity of the minor victim not appear on any public record.

The bill was advanced by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

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