TRENTON, N.J. – Victims of domestic violence and the accused are at a disadvantage if they lack legal assistance. These unmet legal needs are on their way to be studied by a task force, as the Assembly Judiciary Committee advanced a measure (AJR30) sponsored by Assemblyman Erik Peterson to recommend solutions.
“Without legal counsel, the outcomes could be very serious for both parties,” said Peterson (R-Hunterdon). “They are ill-equipped to navigate the courts and advocate for themselves.”
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.