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Bill would let domestic violence victims appear via TV

Victims of violence at the hands of a spouse or domestic partner are often too intimidated by their abuser to appear in court. Sometimes the fear of testifying is enough to allow the accused abuser to get off scot-free. Now three New Jersey legislators have sponsored a bill in the State Assembly which is intended to address this issue.

Under the bill, in certain circumstances a victim alleging domestic violence or spousal abuse can have their testimony taken out of the presence of the alleged abuser, the judge and jury. The testimony would be presented in the courtroom via a closed-circuit TV hookup.

The presentation of testimony in this manner would not be allowed automatically, however. The court would first have to conduct a hearing to determine whether the alleged victim would suffer severe mental or emotional distress if required to face her alleged abuser in open court. Only if the court found a substantial likelihood of such distress would the closed-circuit testimony be taken.

The bill seeks to address the fact that many abusers are able to intimidate their victims in court. The bill does raise a troubling issue, however. Under the U.S. Constitution, a person accused of a crime has the right to confront and cross-examine his accusers in court. If the bill were to become law, the courts would have to make sure sufficient safeguards were present so as not to deny the accused his right of confrontation.

Similar procedures have been introduced in some states to allow child abuse victims to testify remotely, either via closed-circuit TV or from behind a screen set up in the courtroom. Courts have generally found such procedures meet constitutional concerns as long as the defendant has the ability to conduct a meaningful cross-examination.

Source: politickernj.com, "Riley, Mosquera, Moriarty & Fuentes Bill to Help Domestic Violence Victims Seek Justice Against their Abusers Clears Assembly Panel," Gina Wilder, Dec. 13, 2012

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