In New Jersey, comments made online, whether in a public forum or via private message, can be the basis for a restraining order. But first, the people involved must be in a qualifying relationship.
Even a temporary restraining order taken out against you can have negative repercussions on your life. Your job, child custody agreements, and even your home: All can be affected by a restraining order.
New Jersey limits restraining orders to victims of domestic violence who are over 18 years of age or an emancipated minor. The two parties must have also been in a qualifying relationship, such as current or former spouses.
Other relationships that qualify include current or former romantic partners, parents (including individuals expecting a child together), or present or past household members.
What's Considered Online Harassment?
New Jersey's definition of harassment includes both private messages and posts on social media. Name-calling or defamation – that is, posting false information – are not considered domestic violence and would not be grounds for a restraining order.
What does qualify as online harassment are threats to inflict harm or commit a crime on or against another person or property. Knowingly sending or posting "lewd, indecent, or obscene material to or about a person" that either harms someone or would make a reasonable person fear harm also qualifies.
Physical injury is not a requirement to filing a restraining order. Emotional harm is sufficient to meet New Jersey's domestic violence laws. Previous incidents of physical injury, however, may be considered when determining if comments posted online or sent to an individual would give weight to threats.
Let's take two examples of online posts. In one, an unmarried couple, Pat and Sandy, who live together, get into a fight. Pat leaves their shared residence. Sandy gets on social media and posts, in colorful language, about how stupid Pat is. Sandy tags all of Pat's coworkers.
The above situation is unlikely to result in a restraining order because no threats were made.
In the second example, Sandy instead texts Pat a threat that, if Pat returns to their home, Sandy will beat up Pat. A court is more likely to issue a restraining order in this case. A restraining order is even more likely if Sandy has previously hit Pat.
Qualified Legal Expertise
Although a restraining order is a civil action in New Jersey, violating one can result in criminal charges. In other words, using or continuing to use social media to contact someone who has taken out a restraining order against you could result in a criminal case against you.
If you have or think you may have a restraining order filed against you, you need the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Contact Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or online.