Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Troy Singleton, Gabriela Mosquera and Daniel Benson that would establish a pilot program for the electronic monitoring of domestic violence offenders in New Jersey was approved 73-0 Monday by the General Assembly, sending it on its way to the governor's desk.
"Under our current system, it is far too easy for domestic violence offenders to get close to their victims again after an initial attack has occurred," said Singleton (D-Burlington). "It is a recipe for tragedy and is, frankly, unacceptable. Letting domestic violence victims literally see when trouble is heading their way will help them stay one step ahead of attackers hell bent on becoming repeat offenders."
On August 13, 2009, Letizia "Lisa" Zindell, of Toms River was murdered by her former fiancée, Frank Frisco, who then killed himself. The murder-suicide attack occurred just one day after Frisco was released from jail for violating a restraining order that Ms. Zindell had filed against him.
"Lisa's Law" (A-3806), named in honor of Ms. Zindell, would establish a four-year pilot program in Ocean County for electronic monitoring of domestic violence offenders and notification to victims.
"Nowhere is safe for a victim of domestic violence," said Mosquera (D-Gloucester), herself a witness to domestic violence attacks on her mother. "Every trip home or around town, every unfamiliar shadow, every out-of-place bump or creak carries the potential of another attack. It is as unnerving as it is horrible and for most victims, even police intervention and court orders do nothing to stem that dread."
"However, giving victims the ability to know precisely where their attackers are, at all times, gives them power over the most insidious part of a domestic violence attack: the fear," continued Mosquera. "And that simple level of control will go a long way towards helping the victims put their lives back together again."
"Letizia Zindell tried to protect herself, but sadly, the restraining order she filed was not enough to stop her murderer," said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). "Like Letizia, there are countless others who have died at the hands of their abusers. Victims who have filed restraining orders against their abusers often need an additional layer of protection. We must do more and this program will."
The bill would establish a four-year pilot program in Ocean County for electronic monitoring of domestic violence offenders and notification to victims. The pilot program would be designated as "Lisa's Law" in remembrance of Letizia Zindell of Toms River, a domestic violence victim murdered by her former fiancée.
The pilot program would apply to defendants convicted of contempt of a domestic violence order entered pursuant to the provisions of P.L.1981, c.426 (C.2C:25-1 et al.) or P.L.1991, c.261 (C.2C:25-17 et al.). Under the program, whenever a defendant is convicted of contempt of a domestic violence order the court could, in addition to or in lieu of any other disposition:
· sentence the defendant to electronic monitoring with victim notification; or
· sentence the defendant to probation or a suspension of sentence and, as a condition of such probation or suspension, order electronic monitoring with victim notification.
In making the determination whether to place the defendant on electronic monitoring, the court could hold a hearing to consider the likelihood that the defendant's participation in electronic monitoring would deter the defendant from injuring the victim. The court would consider, among other factors, the seriousness of harm that the defendant inflicted on the victim; the defendant's previous history of domestic violence, if any; the defendant's previous history of other criminal acts, if any; whether the defendant has access to a weapon; and whether the defendant has a history of mental illness or substance abuse.
Concerning the costs of the pilot program, a defendant ordered by the court to be placed on electronic monitoring could be ordered to pay a portion or all of the costs and expenses related to electronic monitoring and victim notification, based on the defendant's ability to pay. In addition, the defendant would be assessed a monitoring fee of $250; however, the court could waive the monitoring fee in cases of extreme financial hardship.
The bill also provides that, from the implementation of the pilot program through the fifth year thereafter, any person found by the court in a final domestic violence hearing to have committed an act of domestic violence would be required to pay a civil penalty of $200. Like the monitoring fee, the court could waive this penalty in cases of extreme financial hardship. In addition, the court would impose a civil penalty of $250 on any person convicted of a crime or offense involving domestic violence, or convicted of contempt of a domestic violence order, unless the person was previously assessed the above-described $250 monitoring fee after being placed under electronic monitoring. The civil penalties would expire at the end of the fifth year following implementation of the pilot program.
A dedicated, non-lapsing fund within the General Fund, called the "Domestic Violence Victim Notification Fund," would be the depository of the costs and expenses, as well as any monitoring fee and civil penalties, imposed on the defendant, and any other monies that may be made available to the fund through appropriation by the Legislature or any public or private source. All these deposits would be used to defray the costs of electronic monitoring with victim notification pursuant to the pilot program. The bill would also appropriate $2.5 million from the General Fund to the "Domestic Violence Victim Notification Fund." Following the expiration of the four-year pilot program, any unexpended funds from this appropriation would be returned to the General Fund.
Monitoring could be ordered only with the victim's informed consent, which would include: being provided with information concerning the victim's right to refuse to participate in electronic monitoring and the process for requesting the court to terminate the victim's participation after it has been ordered; the operational procedures of the monitoring device and applicable instructions for same; the manner in which the electronic monitoring technology functions and the risks and limitations of that technology, and the extent to which the system will track and record the victim's location and movements; the boundaries imposed on the defendant during the electronic monitoring; the sanctions that the court may impose on the defendant for violating a court order; the procedure that the victim is to follow if the defendant violates an order or if the electronic monitoring equipment fails; and identification of support services available to assist the victim in developing a safety plan.
The bill would require the Attorney General, in consultation with the Administrative Office of the Courts, to develop procedures to determine, investigate, and report on a 24-hour-per-day basis a defendant's noncompliance with the terms and conditions of the electronic monitoring program. All reports of noncompliance would be investigated by a law enforcement officer within a reasonable period of time. In addition to addressing matters of noncompliance in such fashion, the bill would make it a crime of the third degree to tamper with, remove, or vandalize an electronic monitoring device.
The bill would also amend the "Local Public Contracts Law," P.L.1971, c.198 (C.40A:11-1 et seq.), to provide that services and equipment necessary for the implementation of the pilot program could be negotiated and awarded by a governing body without public advertising for bids and bidding, and be awarded by resolution of the governing body.
The bill further provides that no supplier of a product, system, or service used for electronic monitoring with victim notification in the pilot program would be liable, directly or indirectly, for damages arising from any injury or death associated with the use of the product, system or service unless, and only to the extent that, such action is based on a claim that the injury or death was proximately caused by a manufacturing defect in the product or system.
As to evaluating the pilot program, the bill provides that no later than one year following the implementation of the program and annually thereafter for a total of four years, the Attorney General would submit to the Governor and the Legislature a report containing information on the pilot program. Included with each annual report would be a recommendation as to whether the pilot program should be continued as a statewide program.