Assembly advances bill to study unmet legal needs in domestic violence cases

Assembly advances bill to study unmet legal needs in domestic violence cases

Erik Peterson

TRENTON, N.J. –The lack of legal assistance in domestic violence cases can have dire consequences for both the victim and the accused. Today, the Assembly advanced a measure (AJR115) sponsored by Assemblyman Erik Peterson that would create a task force to study the impact of these unmet legal needs and recommend solutions.

“Both parties are at a great disadvantage without legal counsel,” said Peterson (R-Hunterdon). “They are ill-equipped to advocate for themselves and navigate the courts.”

The state constitution only provides for legal counsel in a criminal defense. Victims and defendants in domestic violence cases who cannot afford a lawyer often represent themselves in court.

“They are left to literally fend for themselves, often to their own detriment,” said Peterson. “One of the best ways to reduce domestic violence abuse is through a protective order. It’s unlikely that will happen when you represent yourself.”

About 83 percent of domestic violence victims represented by an attorney successfully obtained a protective order, while only 32 percent without an attorney obtained one, according to an American University study.

The 16-member domestic violence and legal access task force would issue a report on the nature, extent and consequences of unmet legal needs and suggest ways to increase legal representation in cases.

The bill is awaiting a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee.