Outrage over the Ray Rice trial earlier this year – in which the professional football player avoided jail time through pretrial intervention – has rallied support for New Jersey legislation to change domestic violence laws.
The former Ravens player was shown punching his then-fiancee in the face, knocking her unconscious, in a widely circulated video. The Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office handled the case because the assault occurred in Atlantic City.
State Sen. Loretta Weinberg, who introduced the bill with Senate President Steve Sweeney, said she didn’t have to see the video to be convinced of the need for changes.
“I didn’t need a video. I’ve been involved in this issue for a lot of my public career,” she said. “But … it brought home to many people what domestic violence really is.”
The bill introduces a number of changes to the way domestic violence is defined and prosecuted, including a change to the language around pretrial intervention that would make it harder for first-time offenders such as Rice to qualify and avoid jail time for aggravated assault.
Other changes include harsher sentencing for perpetrators of domestic violence in front of children. “The only way to break the chain is to start by giving kids safe homes where they don’t see this going on,” said Weinberg, D-Bergen.
Camden County Women’s Center caseworker Jeey Moncayo praised another part of the bill, which changes the law’s definition of what constitutes domestic violence to include robbery and criminal coercion.
“I think it’s so huge because it happens every day. I just had a client yesterday – 26 phones in one year, broken by her abuser,” she said, rattling off other damages she sees, from missed days at work to broken car windows.
Moncayo also supported the changes to make it harder to qualify for pretrial intervention, with the addition of “aggravating factors.” Reporting by ESPN following the Rice decision showed that very few domestic violence defendants are actually offered the option of pretrial intervention, however.
On the heels of this bill, Sweeney, D-Gloucester, and Weinberg introduced another bill proposed by Assemblywomen Caroline Casagrande, R-Monmouth, and Pamela Lampitt, D-Camden. That measure calls for a pilot of a special domestic violence court in the assemblywomen’s districts with “judges assigned to the courts [with] extensive knowledge and experience in criminal law and sentencing.”
One in four women experiences domestic abuse in her life, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.