NORCROSS-WEINBERG LEGISLATION TO PROTECT WITNESSES OF CRIME APPROVED BY SENATE

Measure expands the statewide victim and witness notification system to include those who have testified against offenders

 TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Donald Norcross and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg to expand the statewide victim notification system to include testifying witnesses and any other appropriate people who have requested to be notified when an inmate is released from or transferred within the criminal justice system was approved today by the Senate. The current system, operated by the Attorney General, automatically notifies all victims of certain violent crimes and their families when a defendant has been released from custody.

“Witnesses who testify against violent offenders put themselves at risk for the greater good. They should not be left in the dark about a released prisoner who could be seeking retribution,” said Senator Norcross. “It’s our obligation to protect people willing to testify in order to get criminals off the streets and to help innocent victims. This bill can help prevent another terrible tragedy by giving witnesses the tools to make the best decisions for their safety.”

In late 2012, a Woodbury, Gloucester County woman was found fatally stabbed in her home not long after the man she helped prosecutors convict for manslaughter was released from jail. The woman, who had been a key witness, had not been notified because she had not expressed feelings of being threatened by the defendant at the time of the trial.

Authorities say a change in the system would require the judge to provide a list of those involved in the case to the Attorney General’s Office. Other appropriate persons could be added to the list as identified by the Prosecutor’s Office in charge of the trial.

“Just as crime victims can be vulnerable to retaliation by their attackers after their release from prison, so too can witnesses who provided testimony that may have led to their conviction,” said Senator Weinberg (D-Bergen). “Expanding the state notification system will ensure that witnesses are also alerted when an inmate is transferred or released. This information will allow those who have been involved in a case to take the action necessary to protect themselves and their families.”

The State currently utilizes the Victim Information and Notification Everyday (VINE) system, which is provided through a private vendor.  The (S-2513) bill expands the automatic notification to include witnesses and any other appropriate person who has requested notification. The bill requires the Attorney General to continue to maintain the automatic notification system; it further authorizes the Attorney General to issue a directive to effectuate the purposes of the bill.

The Senate approved the measure by a vote of 39 to 0. It must go back to the Assembly for final approval before heading to the governor’s desk.