First-time domestic violence offenders would no longer get a "free pass" in New Jersey, under new legislation introduced by a group of Assembly Democrats.

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The bill would remove the presumption of non-imprisonment for first-time offenders, meaning incarceration would be a viable punishment. Under current law, pretrial intervention (PTI) is the usual route.

"It essentially puts a little more heat on the defendant," said Assemblyman Joseph Lagana (D-Paramus), a co-sponsor of the measure. "Oftentimes, the punishment does not fit the crime."

The measure would also allow the domestic violence victim to have more of a say on whether or not their accused attacker should enter PTI. Plus, a defendant would be required to enter a guilty plea before PTI consideration. With that clause, Lagana said, a defendant can be sentenced to prison immediately following any type of PTI violation.

"People should not get a free pass," he said. "If you're going to act a certain way, then society's going to hold you accountable."

Another sponsor of the measure, Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera (D-Turnersville), said the experience of witnessing her mother survive abuse has taught her that domestic violence has a lasting impact on families and their communities.

"Stopping the cycle of abuse in the home starts with unequivocally declaring that it is a serious crime that can bear serious consequences - not sometimes, but always," Mosquera said.

The new bill has been referred to the Assembly Judiciary Committee.