New Jersey's extensive Domestic Violence Procedures Manual, followed closely by courts, prosecutors, and police, does not mention or otherwise indirectly address 911 calls. But 911 calls can nonetheless be critical evidence and information in the investigation, filing, proof, and plea bargain of domestic violence upgrades to New Jersey criminal charges. Knowing the role 911 calls play in domestic violence prosecutions can help you understand and appreciate your retained criminal defense attorney's advice in your case. Retain premier New Jersey criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm's criminal defense team for your winning domestic violence defense.
New Jersey Domestic Violence Law
Before considering the role of 911 calls in domestic violence upgrades of New Jersey criminal charges, be sure you know the basics of New Jersey's Domestic Violence Prevention Act under which prosecutors seek domestic violence upgrades. Unlike some states, New Jersey doesn't name a specific domestic violence crime. New Jersey instead upgrades other crimes occurring against certain domestic victims. Under N.J. Stat. 2C:25-19d, qualifying domestic violence victims include adults and emancipated minors subjected to domestic violence by a spouse, former spouse, or other present or former household member. Victims can also include those with whom the perpetrator has or is about to have a child in common and those with whom the perpetrator has or has had a dating relationship. Under N.J. Stat. 2C:25-19a, the crimes qualifying for a domestic violence upgrade include homicide, assault, sexual assault, criminal sexual contact, terroristic threats, harassment, lewdness, stalking, false imprisonment, kidnapping, criminal restraint, criminal mischief, and burglary. That's the evidence, for both a qualifying relationship and qualifying crime, that the prosecution must have to pursue domestic violence upgrade.
The Initial 911 Call
Domestic violence investigations usually begin with a 911 call. The 911 dispatcher will ask for the caller's name, address, and description of what happened. The 911 system will record and preserve the call for later review and playback, as information and potential evidence. One might assume that the victim routinely makes the initial 911 call. And while that is often true, many investigations begin instead with an observer's 911 call. Some investigations even begin with the defendant's 911 call. The caller's identity, which the 911 dispatcher will record and electronic recording will preserve, is important to the case.
Victim 911 Calls
Victims sometimes regret their 911 call and recant, voluntarily or under various pressure, their initial account of what happened. If the victim made the initial call describing what happened, that recording may later hold the victim to the truth or, if the victim disappears or recants, provide a basis for continuing with the charges. The content and tone of victim 911 calls are both ordinarily very important to the investigation and prosecution of the domestic violence case. A 911 call description that supports criminal charges and domestic violence upgrade, matches the physical evidence and other witness accounts, and captures the victim's fear, pain, and distress, can make for a strong domestic violence case.
Observer 911 Calls
When an observer makes the 911 call, police and prosecutors have the advantage of a less directly interested or involved witness. Putative victims can have their own ulterior motives for making false or exaggerated reports of domestic violence. Defendants always have a strong penal interest to deny domestic violence, truthfully or not. When a third party calls, the third party's account can, depending on other circumstances, come with a greater presumption of reliability.
Defendant 911 Calls
When the defendant has made the 911 call, police and prosecutors may have the advantage of the defendant's recorded admissions to criminal misconduct. But defendant callers don't ordinarily admit to the 911 dispatcher incriminating actions. A defendant may instead call 911 first because of the putative victim's injury, the putative victim's threats, property damage the putative victim has committed, or other related circumstances. The defendant and the defendant's retained defense attorney are more likely to have good defense use for the defendant's 911 call than prosecutors are to be able to use it for prosecution.
911 Call During Argument
Sometimes, the defendant or putative victim, or both, may threaten to call 911 or go ahead and make the 911 call during an ongoing argument before any domestic violence occurs. These 911 calls and threats to call can become leverage in the domestic partners' arguments. The party threatening or making the call, and the party resisting the call, may know or believe that police will arrest and remove the alleged perpetrator. New Jersey law discourages such manipulation of 911 systems by criminalizing false police reports. Don't use 911 calls to manipulate others.
Later 911 Calls or Other Reports
Sometimes, the putative victim does not make a 911 call during or immediately after the incident but instead waits hours, days, or a longer time before some other incident triggers the 911 call. 911 calls alleging old domestic violence incidents don't carry the evidentiary weight or prosecution impact of contemporaneous calls.
Police Response to Domestic Violence 911 Calls
Some states and local jurisdictions mandate that police arrest or otherwise ensure the removal of at least one of the involved persons when responding to a 911 call alleging domestic violence. New Jersey is among those states mandating the arrest of the person against whom another makes domestic violence allegations. Police practices, though, can vary from officer to officer and jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Police response also depends heavily on the nature of the call and the information and evidence the police gather. See this reliable information on police procedures at a domestic violence scene.
Admissibility of 911 Calls as Evidence
Whether prosecutors can use 911 calls as evidence depends on whom the call records, what they said, and under what conditions. Call admissibility can also depend on other factors like whether the caller remains available to testify as a live witness and who intends to use the 911 call for what purpose. Without analyzing all of the relevant evidence and constitutional law, suffice to say that your retained criminal defense attorney must advise you whether 911 call evidence may work in your favor, against you, or not influence the outcome either way, depending on the call's admissibility.
Retain a Premier New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorney
New Jersey criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm criminal defense team are available for your aggressive and effective defense of New Jersey domestic violence charges supported or contradicted by 911 call evidence. Call 888.535.3686 or go online now to retain attorney Lento.