Measure Notifies Witnesses When Convicts Are Set Free [AUDIO]
If your testimony as a witness helped put a violent bad guy behind bars, wouldn’t you want to know when he’s released from prison?
A bill inching its way to final passage in New Jersey would require officials to let witnesses know when a convict they testified against is set free.
“This came to us as a heartbreaking story where a woman in my district was murdered by a person that she testified against,” explained bill co-sponsor, State Sen. Donald Norcross (D-Camden). “Certainly they’re not going to be happy campers when they come out. Hopefully they’re rehabilitated, but I don’t think it’s up to the witness to take that chance.”
Under current New Jersey 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 Norcross bill 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 too.
“So often we’re encouraging people to come forward and step up to the plate and when you see something, testify,” said Norcross. “You shouldn’t have to lose your life in order to testify.”
The legislation 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.
“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 Assembly co-sponsor, John 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 legislation was approved 77-1 by the Assembly in June and released Thursday by the Senate budget panel. A vote in the full Upper House has not yet been scheduled.