Accused of Stalking in Atlantic County? The Lento Law Firm Can Help

We've all been in situations where we made a choice that wasn't the best course of action. Sometimes it's not a big deal, and sometimes it is. It all depends on the circumstances. There are times when a choice has the potential to get someone into a lot of trouble, especially when law enforcement becomes involved. This is true when someone is accused of stalking in Atlantic County. New Jersey takes this offense very seriously and aims to protect victims from harm. The state imposes strict sentences and fines on anyone who is convicted of stalking. New Jersey also issues restraining orders to protect victims of stalking. Being accused of this offense is no laughing matter, and the allegations can harm your standing in the community, impact your job and family life, and cause disruptions in existing child custody arrangements. However, there are defenses to allegations of stalking, and you should never try to navigate the court system on your own. You need a knowledgeable attorney to guide you.

Atlantic County does not fool around when it comes to allegations of stalking, so if you have been accused or think you will be, the best thing you can do is to contact the Lento Law Firm. The Lento Law Firm and its Criminal Defense Team have the skills you need when the chips are down. The Lento Law Firm and its Criminal Defense Team know how to navigate the New Jersey court system and have vast experience defending individuals in Atlantic County who have been charged with stalking. Whether rightfully or wrongfully accused, you deserve justice, and the Lento Law Firm will make sure your rights are observed. The Lento Law Firm can help, regardless of your location in Atlantic County. From Atlantic City to Egg Harbor Township to Hammonton, the Lento Law Firm is ready to assist you with a stalking allegation or with any other offense. Call 888-535-3686 to tell us about your case or set up a consultation by filling out this online form.

New Jersey's Definition of Stalking

We've all heard of stalking, but what is it, exactly? It sounds like following someone down the street late at night, but it's more than that. Atlantic County does not have its own law describing the offense and instead follows New Jersey's definition. State law says stalking involves purposefully or knowingly engaging in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear for his or her safety, the safety of another person, or to suffer other emotional distress.

To break this definition down, a course of conduct means:

  • Repeatedly maintaining visual or physical proximity to someone;
  • Following, monitoring, observing, surveilling, threatening, or communicating to, or about, a person, or interfering with a person's property by any action, method, device, or means, either directly, indirectly, or through third parties;
  • Repeatedly harassing someone; or
  • Repeatedly conveying, or causing to be conveyed, verbal or written threats, or threats conveyed by any other means of communication, or threats implied by conduct, or a combination thereof, directed at someone.

To continue breaking down the definition repeatedly means on two or more occasions, and emotional distress means significant mental suffering. Lastly, to cause a reasonable person to fear means to cause fear that a reasonable victim in a similar situation would have under the circumstances.

To be considered stalking under New Jersey law, someone's behavior must be intentional. Someone must know what they are doing. The behavior cannot be a coincidence or an accident. For example, if you are out running errands in Brigantine and see your neighbor at the grocery store and then at the hardware store, that is a coincidence. However, if you follow your neighbor to both stores on purpose, the behavior is intentional. That does not make it an instance of stalking, however. Stalking requires more. As stated above, the behavior must happen repeatedly, meaning more than once. There must be a pattern. If you intentionally follow your neighbor to stores every day, that behavior has repetition and there is a pattern. Again, the behavior is not stalking because there is another element that must be satisfied. If you follow your neighbor to shops every day on purpose, and your neighbor becomes emotionally distressed about your actions or fears for their own safety, the behavior could be considered stalking. It could be if a reasonable person would be fearful if they were in a similar situation. New Jersey uses a reasonable person standard to evaluate emotional distress because not everyone reacts the same way when faced with a potential threat or uncomfortable situation.

Here are a few other examples of behavior that could be considered stalking in New Jersey if all the elements of the offense are satisfied:

  • Someone goes through a breakup with a romantic partner and then repeatedly shows up at their former partner's workplace without invitation;
  • An individual sends multiple cards, letters, emails, or packages to someone who told the person to stop sending them;
  • Someone approaches a third party and asks for information about an individual;
  • Someone makes repeated phone calls to a person who told them to stop calling; or
  • An individual sits outside someone's house in a car, every day.

Every situation is different, and not all behavior arises to the level that brings it under New Jersey's stalking law. Some behaviors may just be annoying and may not cause an individual to fear for their own safety or that of another person. Some activities may be mere coincidence, while other actions may not occur in a pattern of repeated conduct. There are a lot of grey areas. That's why it is important to have a competent attorney from the Lento Law Firm at your side if you are accused of stalking. The Lento Law Firm's attorneys have dealt with many different types of stalking cases in Atlantic County, and they know how New Jersey law operates.

Penalties for Stalking in Atlantic County

There are four degrees of indictable offenses in New Jersey. (Indictable offenses used to be called felonies.) First-degree offenses, such as murder and armed robbery, are the most serious, and second-degree offenses, such as armed burglary, are serious, of course, but slightly less so. Offenses of the third and fourth degrees are lower on the scale of seriousness. New Jersey and Atlantic County usually consider stalking to be a fourth-degree offense, which means it is on the lowest part of the scale. However, prosecutors can bump the level up to a third-degree indictable offense, depending on certain factors. If someone commits the offense of stalking in violation of a court order that prohibits the behavior, the individual will face third-degree charges. Further, if an individual commits a second or subsequent offense of stalking against the same victim, prosecutors will call the offense one of the third degree. Lastly, if someone commits the offense of stalking while serving time in prison or while on probation or parole for any offense, the charges will be for a third-degree offense.

For a fourth-degree stalking conviction, a judge may sentence an individual to serve up to 18 months in prison. A court may also order an individual to pay a fine of up to $10,000. For a third-degree conviction for stalking, an individual may face up to five years in prison. A judge can also impose a fine of up to $15,000.

Stalking and Restraining Orders in Atlantic County

In addition to a possible prison sentence and fine, an individual who is accused of stalking may face a restraining order. This is a court order directing someone to stay away from and stop contacting another person. There are two kinds of restraining orders in Atlantic County. The first is a temporary restraining order (TRO), and the second is a final restraining order (FRO). These orders are civil court orders, meaning they are issued by a judge in the civil courts. They are not issued by a judge in the criminal courts. However, it is a criminal offense to violate a restraining order.

A judge issues a TRO when it is necessary, on an emergency basis, to protect an individual's life, health, or well-being. New Jersey law allows victims to get a TRO against anyone they claim is stalking them. (Previously, state law said a TRO was only available to someone who had a prior relationship with the alleged stalker.) Before issuing a TRO, the judge does not need to check to see if any criminal charges have been filed against an alleged stalker, who is called "the respondent" in the restraining order case. In addition, since the court issues a TRO on an emergency basis, the respondent does not have the chance to contest it. After a judge issues a TRO, the order is valid throughout the state of New Jersey, not just in Atlantic County. The court will give a copy of the TRO to the police of the municipality where the victim lives or is staying, to the sheriff of the county where the respondent lives, and to the respondent. If you are served with a TRO, your best course of action is to stay calm, cooperate with law enforcement, and call the Lento Law Firm and its Criminal Defense Team. The team knows what to do in these situations, and they will protect your rights.

The respondent's opportunity to challenge the TRO arises several days later when the court reviews the order to determine whether it should be turned into an FRO. In general, a TRO stays in effect for ten days. When the 10-day period ends, there will be a court hearing to determine whether the victim needs an FRO. At the hearing, the respondent has the chance to present their case, as does the victim. Note that if a criminal case is pending against the respondent, testimony from the FRO hearing is usually not admissible in the criminal case. The court will issue a FRO only after it determines that the respondent committed stalking against the victim.

Further, when an individual is convicted of the offense of stalking in criminal court in Atlantic County, the conviction acts as an application for an FRO prohibiting the defendant from contacting the victim and going to places the victim frequents, such as a workplace. If the court grants the FRO after the conviction, it will send a copy of the order to the appropriate law enforcement agencies.

Stalking and Domestic Abuse in Atlantic County

Restraining orders are commonly issued in domestic abuse cases that involve stalking. New Jersey's Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA) says that to be considered domestic abuse, stalking must be perpetrated by either an adult or an emancipated minor. In addition, the act must be inflicted upon someone who falls within the PDVA's protections. There are three groups that are covered under the law. The state protects anyone:

  • 18 years of age or older, or an emancipated minor who has endured domestic abuse by a spouse, ex-spouse, or any other individual who is a current or prior member of the home;
  • Regardless of age, who has suffered from domestic violence perpetrated by an individual with whom they have a child or with whom they will have a child if one of the parties is pregnant; and
  • Who has faced domestic abuse by an individual with whom they have, or had, a romantic relationship.

Anyone who engages in stalking someone who is protected by the PDVA may end up facing a restraining order. As discussed above, the order may be a TRO and then become a FRO. In addition, someone who stalks an individual who is protected under the PDVA may face criminal charges, as discussed above.

Retain the Lento Law Firm if You Are Accused of Stalking in Atlantic County

If you are facing charges of stalking or are the subject of a restraining order, whether temporary or final, in Atlantic County, the Lento Law Firm is all set to assist you. The attorneys at the Lento Law Firm know that accusations of stalking can turn your world upside down and ruin your reputation, cause problems with your employment and family, and possibly jeopardize your time with your children. Allegations of stalking can also result in prison sentences and fines. The Lento Law Firm and its Criminal Defense Team understand the consequences of a stalking allegation, and they will make sure you receive justice. The Lento Law Firm can help no matter where you are in Atlantic County. If you are in Absecon, Linwood, Margate, Ventnor, or any other area of Atlantic County, the Lento Law Firm is the right choice for legal assistance. Reach out to us by calling 888-535-3686 or using this online form to get in touch.

​​​Contact The Lento Law Firm Today

When it comes to criminal defense cases, you need the right person in your corner. To learn more about how Mr. Lento can help you, call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686. or contact him online.

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