Domestic abuse is a social phenomenon that perpetuates itself, and thus continues to escalate if not addressed. Criminal sanctions are a key component of society’s response to this crisis, and the Domestic Violence Unit of the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office seeks to carry out this responsibility within Essex County. This unit practices vertical prosecution, retaining most cases from screening through resolution, including trial and sentencing when necessary.
Domestic Violence Crisis Response Teams: The majority of municipalities in Essex County have established Domestic Violence Crisis Response Teams. The teams are comprised of civilian volunteers who provide Domestic Violence victims with information regarding criminal charges and obtaining Restraining Orders. Team members also provide referrals to victims regarding counseling, support groups and battered women’s shelters. The Domestic Violence Unit works closely with these Teams to help victims gain both immediate assistance and eventual justice. For additional information regarding Domestic Violence Crisis Response Teams, please contact your local police department or the Domestic Violence Unit of the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office at 973-621-6488 or 973-621-2081.
The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office has established an innovative Municipal Court Victims’ Advocate Program. The program was instituted to address the needs of domestic violence victims at the Municipal level, where a majority of domestic violence cases are handled. Victims’ Advocates appear in the Municipal Courts throughout Essex County in order to provide information, support and guidance to domestic violence victims along with referrals for counseling and battered women’s shelters.
The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office has been a lead partner in the establishment of the Essex County Family Justice Center (FJC), the first such Center in New Jersey. The FJC model is recognized as a best practice in the field of domestic violence intervention and prevention by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women. The FJC brings together domestic violence advocates, civil legal service providers and other community-based organizations under one roof, as to provide crisis intervention, safety planning, counseling, self-sufficiency services and access to the criminal justice system through a liaison to the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office. In May, 2010, the Center opened in temporary space in the Wilentz Justice Complex. In the fall of 2011, the FJC moved to a permanent space at 89 Market St, Newark, NJ where 10 partner agencies provide vital services to victims.
The Domestic Violence personnel continues to play a significant role in the Essex County’s Domestic Violence Working Group. The Unit’s director chairs the Law Enforcement Subcommittee comprising members of law enforcement, the judiciary, victim service providers, probation officers and Domestic Violence Crisis Response Team members. The Domestic Violence Working Group addresses systemic problems in the domestic violence field and endeavors to coordinate the efforts of the various member organizations. The group is instrumental in implementing the dictates of New Jersey’s Domestic Violence Procedures Manual.
Members of the Domestic Violence Unit continue to appear at automatic bail reviews of defendants charged with crimes of domestic violence. These reviews are scheduled before a Superior Court Judge most weekdays. As part of this initiative, the Unit has assumed responsibility for victim notification relative to this automatic bail process. Victim contact, at this early stage of the prosecution, enables the Assistant Prosecutor to better assess the merits of the case.
During 2016, the members of the Domestic Violence Unit processed 1,868 Domestic Violence cases for a total of 1,898 defendants. Assistant Prosecutors presented 493 cases to the Grand Jury during this period. In addition, 23 forfeiture petitions were considered. The following are examples of the spectrum of cases handled by the Domestic Violence Unit in 2016:
State v. Charlie Wilson – Defendant Charlie Wilson pled guilty to Aggravated Assault and Possession of a Weapon for an Unlawful Purpose. This defendant brutally attacked his girlfriend who was undergoing dialysis for kidney disorder. He beat her about her body and head repeatedly with a large piece of wood. He threatened her with a knife and also broke her arm. On March 24, 2016, the defendant was sentenced to 8 years in state prison pursuant to the No Early Release Act, meaning he must serve 85% of that sentence before being eligible for parole. The victim was extremely courageous despite her fear of the defendant.
State v. Krisla Rezireksyon – On July 27, 2016, Krisla Rezireksyon was found guilty of Aggravated Manslaughter, numerous counts of Endangering the Welfare of a Child, and several counts of Unlawful Possession of a Weapon. The defendant was sentenced to 45 years in state prison for starving her one child to death and the horrific starvation and abuse of her two other children who survived the torture.
These cases highlight the various levels of prosecution and demonstrate the challenges facing the members of the Domestic Violence Unit. It is the job of the Assistant Prosecutors to balance the need for deterrence, the level of cooperation of the victim as well as being a strong advocate for justice. The Unit serves a pivotal function in the community in its zealous efforts to prosecute abusers and attend to the needs of the victims of abuse.
Furthermore, the Domestic Violence Unit handles cases when defendants are charged with violating civil restraining orders issued to protect victims of domestic abuse. These violations or contempt charges are typically handled in the Family Part. In 2016, the Assistant Prosecutors assigned to Family Court handled 361 cases, 47 of which resulted in trials.
The Domestic Violence Unit also files petitions for the forfeiture of weapons and firearm permits seized as a result of domestic violence incidents. Additionally, when a member of law enforcement is involved in a domestic violence incident and charges are filed and/or a Temporary Restraining Order is granted, the Unit is responsible for reviewing reports and making a recommendation if the officer should be rearmed with his or her service weapon and any personal weapon he or she may own.
For more information about domestic violence and what to do if you are a victim, please see the Frequently Asked Questions section.