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Empire Justice Memo in Support: Give Domestic Violence Victims in Crisis Critical and Reliable Information about Their Legal Rights and Remedies

Shannon Sswiatek May 09, 2019

Memorandum of Support

Give Domestic Violence Victims in Crisis Critical and
Reliable Information about Their Legal Rights and Remedies

A.7395 (Weinstein)

We recommend you view the PDF here.

The Victim’s Rights Notice is the most widely used informational document provided to domestic violence victims in New York State. For victims in immediate crisis, this notice may be the very first document they ever read that speaks to their experience and provides them with necessary information about their legal rights, remedies and next steps to consider as they plan for their safety. This critical tool also gives information about existing state and local hotline and court resources.

This notice is intentionally designed to assist victims in crisis at the moment they seek the assistance of the courts, law enforcement and hospitals. When law enforcement intervenes in a domestic violence call, regardless of whether an arrest is made, the law requires this notice be immediately shared with the victim in writing or verbally. Where a case is being investigated for criminal prosecution, the District Attorney is similarly obligated to provide this document. Family Courts throughout the state must also share the notice with victims of family offenses when they first come before the court seeking an order of protection. Further, the New York State Department of Health must distribute this form to hospitals throughout the state and it must be shared with all adult victims in suspected or confirmed cases of domestic violence. Although the current law only requires the notice be translated into Spanish, correctly recognizing the criticalness of this document coupled with the diversity of victims, both the New York State Unified Court Systemi and the Division of Criminal Justice Servicesii have long made the notice available in numerous top languages.

Despite its initial creation 25 years ago as a key part of 1994’s ground-breaking Family Protection and Family Violence Intervention Act overhaul of domestic violence laws, the Victim’s Rights Notice has never been substantially amended. Its content and form, while well-meaning, has long been considered overly complicated and unwieldy, regardless of the reader’s literacy level.

More alarmingly, this critical tool does not include even basic information about some of the most transformative changes in domestic violence legislation that have taken place over the last 25 years—legislation intended to help save the lives of victims and their children. For example, as firearms have long been one of the leading causes of domestic violence-related homicides in New York,iii state law has provided for the mandatory or permissive removal of firearms or revocation of permission to carry firearms in orders of protectioniv for over two decades. However, this critical information is not shared with some of the most at-risk victims simply because the notice predates passage of this life-saving legislation. Similarly, the current notice also fails to alert victims to other key legal protections such as: mandatory arrest,v protection from the growing list of enumerated family offenses,vi access to family court when it is not in session,vii and protections for pets and service animals.viii As a result, victims are now given unreliable, outdated information that withholds critical information they need to seek the most appropriate protection from police and courts. Also, to be truly useful, the Victim’s Rights Notice language must be simplified for optimal reader-friendliness.

A. 7395 (Weinstein), introduced at the request of the Unified Court System’s Family Court Advisory and Rules Committee,ix has undertaken this challenge and created a notice drafted in plain language that is clear, direct and understandable. Most importantly, it incorporates many key changes from 25 years of domestic violence policy progress, as well as codifies the existing practice of translation into languages beyond Spanish.

Empire Justice Center strongly supports this common sense legislation and urges the Assembly to pass this bill as soon as possible.

This memorandum was prepared by:
Amy Schwartz-Wallace, Esq.
(585) 454-4060
aschwartz@empirejustice.org
May 7, 2019

i https://www.nycourts.gov/forms/familycourt/domesticviolence.shtml
ii http://www.criminaljustice.ny.gov/ojis/dir_training.htm
iii See New York State Domestic Violence Dashboards from 2013-2017 (http://www.opdv.ny.gov/statistics/nydata/index.html) indicting that firearms were used in an average of over 30% of all domestic violence homicides in NY over the last 5 years. For a good review of the dangerous intersection of domestic violence and firearms, see the October 2016 report, 12 Facts That Show How Guns Make Domestic Violence Even Deadlier, by The Trace available at: https://www.thetrace.org/2016/08/15-facts-that-show-how-guns-make-domestic-violence-even-deadlier/.
iv See generally Criminal Procedure Law §530.14, Family Court Act §842-a, and Domestic Relations Law §240(3)(e)
v Criminal Procedure Law §140.10(4)
vi Criminal Procedure §530.11, Family Court Act §812
vii Family Court Act §154-d
viii L.2006. ch.253 and L.2008 ch.532
ix https://www.nycourts.gov/LegacyPDFS/IP/judiciaryslegislative/pdfs/2019-FamilyCourt.pdf