Section Chief: Assistant Prosecutor Sonja Furlow
Unit Commander: Sergeant Michelle Chambers-Larsen
The Domestic Violence Unit investigates and prosecutes every indictable domestic violence incident occurring in Camden County, as well as disorderly persons offenses involving violations of restraining orders. In addition, the Unit handles all weapons forfeiture motions involving weapons seized from persons involved in acts of domestic violence as well as disarming and rearming law enforcement officers involved in allegations of domestic violence activity. An investigator and an assistant prosecutor are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week to provide investigative assistance and legal advice to law enforcement agencies in the county. The Unit also provides training to law enforcement officers and law enforcement recruits, attends the regular meetings of State and County Domestic Violence Working Groups, and regularly participates in seminars in an effort to educate groups likely to have contact with victims of domestic violence.
DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES
The Domestic Violence Unit is devoted to investigating and prosecuting acts of domestic violence. The Unit consists of four full-time assistant prosecutors, one sergeant, five detectives and four clerical staff members. They investigate indictable acts of domestic violence alleged in the county’s 37 municipalities. Both detectives and assistant prosecutors are on call around-the-clock to respond to calls for investigative assistance and legal advice. These cases are then prepared and presented to the Grand Jury within the Unit.
The Domestic Violence Unit is also responsible for the prosecution of violations of restraining orders, Criminal Contempt, under N.J.S. 2C:29-9b, in Superior Court, Family Division. An Assistant Prosecutor prosecutes the violations and is assisted by a detective. The Section Chief of the Domestic Violence Unit litigates Civil Weapons forfeiture actions and makes decisions regarding the disarming and rearming of law enforcement personnel under the jurisdiction of the Camden County Prosecutor’s office alleged to be involved in acts of domestic violence. The Section Chief and Deputy Section Chief of the Unit attend the regularly scheduled meetings of the State Domestic Violence Working Group and the Section Chief and Unit Commander attend the regularly scheduled meetings of the County Domestic Violence Working Group.
Successful prosecution of domestic violence offenses is often difficult because victims are likely to reconcile with their abuser for any number of reasons and subsequently recant. The Domestic Violence law, N.J.S. 2C:25-17, et. seq., mandates arrest in incidents where there is probable cause to believe an offense has been committed and the victim displays visible injuries, as well as when there is probable cause to believe that a Domestic Violence Restraining Order has been violated.
The Domestic Violence Unit in Camden County follows a protocol of evidence-based prosecution, allowing for the prosecution of an abuser in cases where the victim refuses to cooperate. To accomplish this objective, it is essential all admissible evidence be obtained while it is still available, such as photographs of injuries and the crime scene, identifying any independent witnesses and obtaining taped statements from them, securing 911 tapes, as well as any available video surveillance, medical records, and phone records. Without these investigative efforts, hundreds of cases involving violence between intimate partners and household members would be dismissed for lack of evidence.
Studies show society pays a high price for tolerance of domestic violence in terms of the cost of emergency room care, increases in the rates of truancy, drug addiction, alcoholism and suicide among children growing up in abusive homes. Studies have further found children exposed to violence in the home often grow up to be abusers themselves. In response to this, the Prosecutor’s Office has devoted valuable resources to combating this problem through investigation and prosecution. Equally important are the education and training the Unit provides to police departments and to the community in general.