Expand Access to Justice

In courtrooms every day, Partners has first-hand knowledge of the challenges survivors encounter in navigating the courts without legal representation, financial resources, or English proficiency. Partners is dedicated to expanding access to justice so that victims are heard in court, understand court processes, and are able to obtain meaningful protection from further abuse and can safely leave their abusers. Access to justice is the ability of anyone, regardless of their socio-economic status, access to counsel, race, immigration status, gender identity, language, education, or disability, to navigate the legal system to advocate for themselves and their interests. Partners collaborates with county and state domestic violence working groups, domestic violence agencies and the judiciary to advance practices and procedures to improve fairness, efficiency and accessibility.

Fighting for Sexual Assault Victims

BLAME AND SHAME HAVE NO PLACE IN SASPA PROCEEDINGS

Interior of an empty courtroom with gavel and sounding block on the desk.

On September 28, 2021, the New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously ruled in CR v. MT that in all cases under the Sexual Assault Survivors Protection Act (SASPA), the central question is whether the sexual conduct occurred without the victim’s affirmative and freely given consent. Justice Pierre-Louis, in overturning the appellate court, opined:  “In 2021, we cannot and should not go back and time to a period when it was the norm to shame, blame, and prosecute victims.” All too often sexual assaults are facilitated by the victim’s consumption of alcohol. The Court’s ruling ensures that in all SASPA cases the rightful focus is on whether sexual conduct was nonconsensual. 

Partners is proud to have submitted an amicus (friend of the court) brief in this matter and that the Court adopted the position and rationale which Partners and others advanced  Thank you to C.J. Griffin and Pashman Stein Walder Hayden P.C. for representing Partners and the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault in this important case.  Congratulations to South Jersey Legal Services, Inc., Legal Services of New Jersey, and Rutgers Domestic Violence Clinic and Domestic Violence Project (Rutgers Law School).

View the full decision.

Protecting Immigrant Victims

Partners is addressing obstacles for foreign language speakers in offering evidence at final restraining order hearings and supporting allies through the defense of the Immigrant Trust Directive and adding Partners’ voice to the successful campaign for legislation for expanded access to driver’s licenses. 

Let’s Drive NJ Campaign

We supported the Let’s Drive legislation, signed into law in December 2019, to enable domestic violence victims, including immigrants without legal status, as well as other marginalized individuals, to obtain a driver’s license and make it easier for them to obtain work in hard-to reach areas of the state. Domestic violence victims often flee for their safety and may lack access to the required documents.

Check out the Insider NJ article announcing Partners’ support of the Let’s Drive NJ Campaign.

Partners provided comments on the draft regulations, resulting in an important change in policy, to permit survivors of intimate partner violence not to disclose their address.

Immigrant Trust Directive

We joined with the ACLU of New Jersey and 45 other organizations in filing a brief to defend New Jersey’s Immigrant Trust Directive, which restores trust in law enforcement among New Jersey’s immigrant community. Immigrant women are especially vulnerable to domestic violence because of their immigration status, language and cultural barriers, social isolation, and lack of financial resources. Victims of intimate partner violence, regardless of their immigration status, need to feel safe to contact the police for help.

For more information, check out the following:

Ocean County v. Grewal/ Nolan v. Grewal

How the Immigrant Trust Directive Changes Law Enforcement Practices

Educating the Legislative and Executive Branches about domestic violence

Partners is a source of information about the need for and impact of proposed legislation and regulations. Partners supports pending bills to train municipal prosecutors (S386 /A1763), provide temporary restraining orders in multiple languages (A1078 / S1146), and create a task force to expand access to counsel (AJR 30, SJR 36). Partners also supports new regulations intended to expand access to victims of crime compensation funding. For more information on this issue, check out Partners’ comments on the regulations. 

Strengthening the Criminal Justice Response to Nonfatal Strangulation

Partners thanks Sen. Teresa Ruiz for her legislative leadership in successfully strengthening New Jerseys’ response to nonfatal strangulation, a particularly dangerous and life threatening act of domestic violence. S2503/A4588, awaiting the governor’s signature, will increase the penalty for nonfatal strangulation in a domestic violence case to a crime of second degree. Nonfatal strangulation is linked to a seven-fold increase in the likelihood of homicide. [1] Victims are often subjected to repeated non-fatal strangulation assaults which, even when death does not result, can cause traumatic brain injury, in addition to other long-term health consequences. For more information, check out Partners’ testimony in support of this bill.

[1]Glass, Nancy, et al., Non-fatal strangulation is an important risk factor for homicide of women, 35 The Journal of Emergency Medicine 7 (2008).

New VCCO Regulations Will Expand Access to Critical Compensation Funds for Survivors

The Victims of Crime Compensation Office (VCCO) issued excellent regulations in November of 2021, which will ease barriers to qualify for funding. Partners and Volunteer Lawyers for Justice provided comments to the proposed rulemaking. The final regulations reflect VCCO’s consideration of two of those comments by:

  1. Clarifying that victims can qualify for compensation without making a criminal complaint. This decoupling of victim compensation from criminal prosecution speaks to the wishes of survivors, many of whom are marginalized survivors of color, who seek to avoid the criminal system. Qualifying survivors are eligible for economic compensation if they obtain temporary orders of protection, whether or not they contact police. 
  2.  Permitting awards for legal fees to include costs, such as translation of evidence or transcripts. Typically, the expense of transcripts has been a significant barrier to appeals. This change will expand access to justice by allowing more victims to pursue appeals.

View Partners’ and VLJ’s Comments on the VCCO Regulations. 

View the new VCCO Regulations.