Domestic Violence Victim’s Rights Notices
The Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York (WBASNY) supports bill A.9628 (Weinstein), which would amend the family court act and criminal procedure law in relation to notification of rights to victims of domestic violence in criminal and family court proceedings. WBASNY also urges the Senate to modify a similar bill S.6956 (Serino), The Victim’s Rights Notice, originally enacted in 1994, was designed to ensure that victims were made aware of their rights, of the expectations they may have to obtain assistance from civiil and criminal justice systems, and of the remedies and resources available to them. The notice was required to be distributed as part of a victim’s copy of the Domestic Incident Report, and was promulgated by the Office of Court Administration in eight languages.
While some form of the Victim’s Rights Notice has been in effect for over twenty years, the Notice has not been substantially changed. A.9628 substantially simplifies the Notice so that it is now in plain language that is much more clear and understandable to victims in crisis of all literacy levels, while at the same time expanding considerably on the information it provides. The bill also incorporates changes in the law that have taken place since the Notice was first developed. The bill also requires that the Victim’s Rights Notice be translated into, at a minimum, Spanish, Russian and Chinese.
The revised Notice reads at an average 8.7 (middle school) level, in contrast to the 14.0 (college level) average of the current notice and provides critical information to domestic violence victims throughout New York State. The information is broken down into shorter sentences with easier to read bullet points. It provides victims with basic yet detailed and straightforward information about their rights and remedies under the law, important information about emergency domestic violence hotlines and services, legal and medical resources, what to expect from law enforcement, including what assistance may be immediately available to them when they first call law enforcement, and what remedies may be available through criminal and family courts.
Under this bill, when law enforcement intervenes in a domestic violence call, this notice is required to be immediately shared with the victim in writing and, if necessary, orally. The bill also requires the notice to be available in plain English, Spanish, Chinese and Russian. The notice must also be provided by a District Attorney investigating a family offense, and by family courts to victims of family offenses. The notice shall also be distributed to the state Department of Health for distribution to all hospitals.
This bill passed the Assembly on May 3, 2016. The Senate passed its own version of the bill, S.6956 (Serino) on June 6, 2016. The two bills differ in some key respects. For example, the Senate bill only requires the notice to be translated into Spanish, which simply does not go far enough given the diversity of cultures in New York State. The Senate version requires simply that the notification contain “substantially” the statement contained therein, whereas the Assembly version requires the statutory Notice language to be included verbatim. Of greatest concern is that the Senate version, in its attempt to simplify language, is misleading with some statements over-promising what will happen when a domestic incident report is called in, and other statements under-promising the rights to which a victim is entitled by law. In contrast, the Assembly bill provides a more realistic and thorough description of what law enforcement, domestic violence hotlines and courts can do.
The Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York supports this legislation and urges the Senate to update its similar legislation S6956/ Serino to conform with A.9628.