The purpose of the unit is to offer maximum protection to victims of domestic violence and to hold batterers accountable for their actions. To reach this goal, the unit prosecutes cases vertically, seeks to pursue matters despite uncooperative or unavailable victims, provides victims with support throughout the criminal justice process, and educates the community in the dynamics of domestic violence and its prevention.
To promote the effective and speedy disposition of domestic violence cases, all complaints are screened upon receipt in the office to determine whether downgrade and referral to Municipal Court or Family Court is warranted. The cases not referred to other courts are either presented to the grand jury or handled through the pre-indictment conference program. Use of the pre-indictment conference program affords the opportunity for a swift yet appropriate disposition.
The unit is comprised of assistant prosecutors, detectives and a victim witness advocate. The advocate meets with victims to provide assistance, information, emotional support, advocacy and referrals to additional services such as temporary shelter or counseling as appropriate. The advocate can assist victims with safety needs by offering a free 911 cell phone and/or help obtaining an ADT alarm pendant. The advocate can also accompany victims to court, assist with New Jersey Victims of Crime Compensation Office claim applications, and explain the criminal justice system and civil remedies.
In addition to prosecuting indictable violations of restraining orders, the unit is also responsible for prosecuting crimes of domestic violence ranging from attempted homicide to burglary and terroristic threats, regardless of whether a restraining order is in effect.
The unit also handles forfeiture or return of firearms and other weapons seized during the investigation of domestic violence incidents. To determine whether the weapons should be returned to their owners or forfeited, a detective and an assistant prosecutor assigned to the unit review the circumstances of the seizure, speak to the victims and witnesses, and review the owner’s criminal record. Should a determination be made that weapons will be forfeited, the appropriate motion is filed with the court.
In addition to the day-to-day legal work accomplished by the unit, the attorneys also take part in a wide-range of community service projects aimed at curbing domestic violence. Unit members frequently speak about domestic violence on the radio, at local schools and to community organizations. The unit is also responsible for training local police departments in domestic violence prevention and response. The training covers such issues as the importance of taking statements from those present at the scene of a domestic violence matter, spotting defensive wounds, weapons forfeiture and the procedure used to help a victim obtain a domestic violence restraining order.
The unit works closely with Womanspace, Mercer County’s counseling and shelter agency. The unit trains with Womanspace and often participates in panel discussions on domestic and dating violence. Womanspace coordinates the county’s Domestic Violence Response Teams (DVRT). Each municipality and city in the county has a DVRT. The teams are comprised of civilian volunteers who provide domestic violence victims with information regarding criminal charges, restraining orders and counseling.