Governor Chris Christie today conditionally vetoed legislation in order to re-enforce crime victim's rights by ensuring that court-ordered restitution remains permanently available to be claimed by a victim or victim's family without limitation and funded through the budget process. The legislation as presented would have redirected to other crime victims court-ordered restitution for victims of crime who don't come forward within two years.
As written, the bill (S-1173) would direct that court-ordered restitution for a specific victim -- held by the Department of Corrections (DOC) while an offender is imprisoned -- be used to make payments to other victims under New Jersey's crime compensation law if the intended crime victim is not located or does not come forward within two years. Those intended recipients would still be eligible for compensation if they do come forward, but the bill fails to provide a means of additional funding or an avenue to compensate them after the funds have been expended.
"I support the sponsors' intent in putting forward legislation that seeks to assist victims of crime, and share the goal that government should take all appropriate steps to help victims recover," the Governor said in his conditional veto message. "Despite this legislation's salutary goal, this bill in its current form creates an untenable restitution process that may ultimately prevent crime victims from receiving such restitution."
Court-ordered crime victim restitution funds owed by offenders who are imprisoned are currently held by the DOC as they attempt to notify the intended crime victim. The bill as written would divert unclaimed restitution funds to the Victims of Crime Compensation Office (VCCO) to compensate other victims. The VCCO's funding is already determined as part of the annual state budget process. The conditional veto recommends that the unclaimed restitution funds be transferred to the state Treasury's Unclaimed Property Administration if the DOC is unable to locate the person named in the court's restitution order within two years. In this way, the intended recipient's rights to the compensation are never extinguished.
"This approach best ensures that these funds, ordered as restitution for victims but yet unclaimed, will remain available for these victims, while also ensuring that funding for victim compensation claims is predictable and secure by including it in the comprehensive budget process," the conditional veto message states.
In August, Governor Christie bolstered crime victims' rights by signing "Alex DeCroce's Law," which strengthened New Jersey's existing Crime Victim's Bill of Rights, which was adopted by constitutional amendment in 1991. The changes in Alex DeCroce's Law, named after the late Assembly leader who was a tireless victims' rights advocate, addressed gaps in victim treatment as identified by victims' advocates and updated provisions affected by case law. The law had not been updated since 2001.
"I recognize, too, that even with the adoption of the most robust victim protection measures, all too often the suffering and loss endured by crime victims is not well understood by society," the Governor said in his conditional veto message. "For this reason, I whole-heartedly support efforts aimed at assisting crime victims, and I will continue to fight to see victims' rights are recognized and protected."