TRENTON – The Senate Law and Public Safety Committee advanced legislation today sponsored by Senator Shirley K. Turner that would provide additional rights and financial support to witnesses in order to encourage cooperation with law enforcement and prosecutors.
“A lack of witness protection places our criminal justice system at a huge disadvantage and assures impunity for killers who remain on our streets to terrorize our neighborhoods,” said Senator Turner (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “It takes immense courage for witnesses to risk their own safety to help in the prosecution of a crime, and many are often too reluctant to come forward out of fear of retaliation. Expanding protections and financial support for witnesses will not only keep our neighborhoods safe and help in the pursuit of justice, but will motivate more individuals to come forward if they feel sufficiently protected.”
The bill, S-1540, would first authorize the Victims of Crime Compensation Office (VCCO) to pay expenses related to protecting the safety of witnesses. Under current law, the VCCO could order the payment of relocation expenses for a witness and the family of the witness. Under this legislation, the VCCO’s authority to order payment of expenses would be revised to include (1) relocation expenses for a witness and those residing with the witness at the time of the offense; and (2) expenses related to protecting the safety of a victim or a cooperating witness.
The bill would also amend the Crime Victim’s Bill of Rights to expand the rights of victims that cooperate with law enforcement. Victims would be entitled to protective measures before, during, and after a hearing or trial. Information on the level of protection available would also be provided to victims, and if testifying, psychological assistance would also be made available before and during trial to cope with any stress.
Lastly, the bill would authorize the Department of Law and Public Safety to award grants from the Victim and Witness Advocacy Fund to public entities and non-profit organizations. The goal of awarding these grants would be to provide violence intervention and services to ensure the safety of victims and witnesses.
The bill advanced out of committee in a 5-0 vote.