TRENTON, N.J. – The unmet legal needs of domestic violence victims and the accused are a step closer to being studied by a task force after the Assembly voted today to pass a measure (AJR30) sponsored by Assemblyman Erik Peterson.
Peterson’s resolution creates a 16-member domestic violence and legal access task force that will issue a report within 18 months, which will include suggestions on ways to increase legal representation in cases.
“Without legal counsel, both parties are at a disadvantage,” 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.”
A study by American University found that 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.
The measure (SJR36) awaits action by the Senate.