ANGELA DELLI SANTI, Associated Press
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Gov. Chris Christie signed a law Tuesday to give crime victims more of a voice in the New Jersey judicial system.
The measure gives victims greater access to information about the prosecution of their cases and allows the families of murder victims to display photographs or buttons of the deceased in court.
The law also instructs prosecutors to consider victim impact statements when deciding whether to accept a plea or allow a defendant to enter pretrial intervention. In addition, it protects victims from harassment and ensures they get needed medical services.
Christie said the law was needed to ensure crime victims' interests were protected.
"As unfortunate as it may be, the victims of crime and their families can fall between the cracks — even with well-intentioned prosecutors who are focused on proving out the crime," said Christie. "Part of making sure justice is done is treating the victims and their families with dignity and respect as well.
"That helps the healing process for them, and it also helps the criminal justice process in my view — judges and prosecutors getting input on the impact of these crimes on victims," the governor said.
Crime victims' advocates hailed the passage of the law as being among the most comprehensive in the country.
"It literally addresses most of the issues victims have had problems with over the past 20 years and provides remedies in those areas," said Richard Pompelio, who runs the New Jersey Crime Victims Law Center and helped craft the legislation. "For example, victims never had direct standing to come into criminal court and assert their rights. Now they do."
The law expands a victims' rights amendment to the state constitution. It is named after former Assembly Republican leader Alex DeCroce, who helped get the original Crime Victim's Bill of Rights through the Legislature in 1991 and who died suddenly this year.
Christie, a former federal prosecutor, called DeCroce a mentor after signing the law Tuesday afternoon. His widow, Assemblywoman Betty Lou DeCroce, received the first ceremonial pen the governor used to sign the measure.
"I miss Alex every day," Christie said. "He was someone who had friends on both sides of the aisle, who had been here for some time. He knew how to make things work, how to fight when he needed to. He also knew how to make a deal when he had to too."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.