Burzichelli, Eustace, Albano, Barnes & Quijano Bill to Broaden Protections for Crime Witnesses Gets Final Legislative OK
By Mel Fabrikant Monday, January 13, 2014, 04:19 PM EST
Measure Would Require Crime Witnesses to be Notified of Defendant’s Release or Change in Custody
Legislation Assembly Democrats John J. Burzichelli, Timothy J. Eustace, Nelson T. Albano, Peter J. Barnes III and Annette Quijano sponsored to require a crime witness to be notified when the offender is released from custody was approved 80-0 Monday by the Assembly, giving it final legislative approval.
“The witness of the crime has just as much right to be notified of changes in the defendant’s status as the victim of the crime,” said Burzichelli (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland). “Especially in the case of violent crimes or domestic violence, both the victim and the witness may be at risk.”
The bill comes after the December 2012 murder of a 54-year-old Woodbury woman, Ramona Johnstone, who was allegedly killed by Richard Santiago, who had been released from prison in May 2012 after a manslaughter conviction. Johnstone testified against Santiago in that case.
“This legislation would expand current law to help protect those who have the courage to stand up in the name of justice,” said Eustace (D-Bergen/Passaic). “In these cases, witnesses are just as vulnerable as the victims. Witnesses should receive notification when a change in the case occurs.”
Under current law, the Office of Victim and Witness Advocacy automatically notifies crime victims when defendants convicted of certain serious crimes are about to be released from incarceration, unless the crime victims have requested not to be notified.
The bill (A-3692) would require that upon the request of a witness or, any other person determined appropriate by the prosecutor, the Office of Victim and Witness Advocacy would notify them of the impending release as well.
“In some cases, those who request to be notified are concerned about threat or intimidation,” said Albano (D-Cape May/Atlantic /Cumberland). “Extending notification to keep witnesses informed about changes to the case is the right thing to do.”
“A citizen who participates in a criminal proceeding should be told of a violent offender’s release,” said Barnes (D-Middlesex). “This would be a small legislative action that would extend the opportunity for more New Jerseyans to be kept informed for their own safety.”
“Protecting public safety is a top priority, and this is another step toward accomplishing that goal,” said Quijano (D-Union). “This is a common sense and reasonable thing to do to protect crime witnesses, who far too often have been subjected to harassment and intimidation.”
The bill would direct the Attorney General to maintain or arrange for the state to participate in an automatic notification system to alert crime victims, witnesses, and other appropriate persons when an offender is released from custody or is transferred within the correctional system.
Victims, witnesses, and, as determined by the prosecuting agency, other appropriate persons would supply contact information and automatic notification will alert them when custody status changes.
The bill now goes to the governor.