The Domestic Violence Unit is responsible for prosecuting indictable charges involving domestic violence and all disorderly person's contempt (violation of a restraining order) complaints, weapons forfeiture petitions and weapons forfeiture hearings.
If the case involves indictable domestic violence charge(s), it proceeds much like other indictable criminal cases from Pre-Indictment Conference, Grand Jury, guilty plea or trial and sentencing. Presently, there is vertical prosecution of these cases - one assistant prosecutor handles a case from the complaint stage through sentencing. Some of the common indictable charges include contempt of domestic violence restraining orders, aggravated assault, terroristic threats, stalking, cyber-harassment and criminal mischief.
If the case involves a disorderly person's contempt charge, it proceeds on a separate day as a Family Court matter. A person is charged with contempt in a domestic violence case when he/she violates a Temporary or Final Restraining Order (TRO/FRO) that has been issued by a Municipal or Superior Court Judge. These cases originate in the local police departments. That department is responsible for charging and filing contempt complaints. The complaints, police reports and restraining orders are then forwarded to the Prosecutor's Office for prosecution. The Family Division dockets the complaint and schedules the case for arraignment. If a defendant is indigent, pro bona counsel will be appointed to represent him/her. At that time, the defendant either enters a guilty or not guilty plea. If a not guilty plea is entered, the case is scheduled for a hearing approximately two weeks later at the next scheduled Domestic Violence court date. If the defendant is found guilty at trial, the judge will immediately move to sentencing. A typical sentence for the first contempt conviction is a non-custodial one-year probationary term with certain conditions such as attending a batterer's intervention program or obtaining a substance abuse and/or mental health evaluation and treatment, if recommended. However, on a second or subsequent contempt conviction, the defendant also faces a mandatory minimum of 30 days in the county jail.
When TROs are issued, the police are required to seize all weapons in the defendant's possession and any Firearms Purchaser Identification Cards (FPIC) or permits to carry. Upon seizure of the weapons, they are turned over to evidence custodian in the Prosecutor's Office. A Weapons Forfeiture Petition is filed in every case where weapons are seized. A forfeiture hearing is then scheduled, and at that hearing the court decides if the weapons are forfeited by the defendant, if non-firearms can be transferred to a third party, if firearms can be transferred to a licensed firearms dealer, or in some cases, if the weapons can be returned. Another disposition is to return the weapons after certain conditions are met. When firearms are forfeited or transferred, the FPIC is usually revoked as well. A defendant in a weapons forfeiture hearing does not have the right to appointed counsel. Either a defendant retains an attorney to represent him/her or he/she proceeds prose (without legal representation).
If a person has been convicted of a crime or has an FRO issued against them, they are not permitted to possess weapons or possess a Firearms Purchaser Identification Card.