Municipal Court Process for Domestic Violence Cases

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You may become a victim/witness in a domestic violence municipal court case in one of two ways.  The first way is when the accused is arrested by a police officer who has probable cause to believe the defendant has committed an act of domestic violence.  This typically happens when police are called to the scene and see visible signs of injury or damaged property.  The police officer is obligated to sign a complaint as well as arrest the accused.  The officer, on behalf of the State, is the complainant and you, as the victim, become the State’s witness.  A second way is when the victim tells the police what happened and the victim or the police officer files a complaint.  The complaint is either a warrant complaint for a person’s arrest, which is served directly on the defendant, or a summons complaint, which is usually mailed to the defendant, telling him or her to come to court on a specified date for a first appearance.  Shortly after, a trial date will be set.

What Happens Next?

As the trial date approaches, you will be notified, usually by mail, of the time and date of the hearing.  Should the case go to trial, your testimony will be needed.  It is also important for the municipal prosecutor to have your input should the case be dismissed or if the defendant enters into a plea negotiation.

Domestic violence victims often feel very uncomfortable or even unsafe testifying against their abusers.  This is understandable for many reasons.  However, it is important to keep in mind that when a complaint is signed by a police officer, only the judge has the authority to dismiss the charges.  If you are fearful for your safety at any time during the proceedings, please alert a court officer.  An officer can help you take steps to ensure your continued safety.

You may be concerned that if found guilty, the defendant may be subject to incarceration.  A defendant who pleads to or is found guilty of a first disorderly persons offense (the type of charge heard in municipal court) is not typically subject to such a sentence.  Before sentencing, you have the right to make a statement about the impact this crime has had on you. In your statement you can request the judge to order the defendant to attend a batterer’s program as part of his/her sentence.