A domestic violence charge in the state of New Jersey is a serious matter. If you are accused of a domestic violence crime, it can place severe restrictions on your daily life, split up your family, damage your reputation, and even put future career plans in jeopardy.
For members of the United States Armed Forces, domestic violence can lead to even bigger problems. A charge or conviction of domestic violence, whether in military or civilian court, can prevent you from pursuing your military career or may lead to your discharge. What should those living, working, and serving on military installations such as Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (JB MDL), know about domestic violence charges?
Domestic Violence Criminal Charges in New Jersey
Domestic violence isn't a crime in itself; it's an offense that gets added to another crime when the victim and defendant have a close relationship. For example, any person can be guilty of assaulting another in New Jersey. If the assault is between two people who live together, however, then the assault also becomes a crime of domestic violence.
When a crime is a domestic violence offense, it may add more penalties for the defendant. The process may also become expedited, as courts tend to want to move quickly to protect the alleged victim from abuse. But going quickly could deny the defendant due process rights.
If you're facing domestic violence charges in New Jersey, know that the stakes are high. As military or civilian personnel residing or working on a base such as JB MDL, a domestic violence charge could have negative consequences on your career and everyday life.
Offenses eligible for domestic violence charges
There are several crimes that can be tried as domestic violence crimes if committed against someone you have a close relationship with. These underlying crimes include:
- Criminal restraint
- False imprisonment
- Terroristic threats
- Sexual assault
- Criminal coercion
- Criminal mischief
- Criminal trespassing
As you can tell from the above list, it's possible to be charged with a domestic violence offense even if there was no physical contact. If you had a heated argument with your spouse, they might interpret something you said as a threat. If you send intimate photos or texts to your partner, they could claim it as lewdness.
In some cases, it's possible you are falsely accused of domestic violence. Sometimes, partners may take revenge by reporting false incidents of domestic abuse to get a restraining order, which forces the defendant out of the house or away from their children.
Type of relationship
For a crime to be a domestic violence offense, the parties involved must have a certain type of relationship. According to NJSA 2C:25-19, the eligible relationships for domestic violence are:
- Dating or have dated in the past
- Living together or lived together in the past
- Have a child together or are expecting a child
The alleged victim must also be at least 18 years old or an emancipated minor (emancipated minors are under 18 but either married, in the military, with a child, expecting a child, or declared independent by an agency or court).
Penalties for domestic violence in New Jersey
The penalties for domestic violence depend on the severity of the charge. In New Jersey, domestic violence offenses can be either misdemeanors (known as disorderly persons offenses in New Jersey) or felonies (known as indictable offenses in New Jersey).
For domestic violence disorderly persons offenses, such as harassment, stalking, or simple assault, the possible penalties are:
- Mandatory treatment or anger management
- Fines up to $500
- Jail time of up to 6 months
For domestic violence indictable offenses, such as aggravated assault, kidnapping, sexual assault, or incidents with the use of a deadly weapon, the possible penalties are:
- Fourth-degree offenses: up to 18 months in prison
- Third-degree offenses: 3 to 5 years in prison
- Second-degree offenses: 5 to 10 years in prison
- First-degree offenses: up to 20 years in prison
Mandatory arrest for domestic violence
When a police officer arrives on a potential crime scene, they must make an arrest if they suspect it's a domestic violence offense. To allow an officer to make a mandatory arrest, one of the following must be true:
- The alleged victim has a sufficiently close relationship with the person they are accusing and exhibits signs of an injury caused by a domestic violence-related offense.
- There's probable cause the alleged perpetrator violated a no-contact order.
- There's a warrant in effect.
- There's probable cause the alleged perpetrator used a weapon.
With the mandatory arrest requirement for domestic violence offenses, a situation can spiral out of control quickly. What starts as an argument between you and your partner could end with an arrest.
If you are charged with domestic violence, it's possible your accuser will also seek a restraining order against you. A restraining order will prohibit you from all contact with the plaintiff (the person who filed the restraining order). If you live with this person, you'll have to leave your home immediately. You cannot interact with the plaintiff at all, even in public places. A restraining order can take away custody of your children, require you to pay certain expenses, mandate counseling, and prevent you from possessing a firearm.
In New Jersey, restraining orders can be temporary (TRO) or final (FRO). When someone files an initial request for a restraining order against you, the police will serve you with a TRO and a hearing date 10 days later. At the hearing, you and the plaintiff will have a chance to present testimony before a judge. There are three possible outcomes from these hearings:
- The judge dismisses your TRO.
- The judge extends your TRO.
- The judge replaces your TRO with an FRO.
An FRO is final, meaning that there's no expiration date. If you have received a TRO and a hearing date for your restraining order, you should contact a defense attorney as soon as possible.
Domestic Violence in the Military
Domestic violence has long been an issue in the military. Service members may face multiple deployments, family separation, demanding workloads, mental illness, and head trauma throughout their military careers. According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), all of these factors increase the risk for domestic violence.
In 2019, domestic violence became a specified crime within the Uniform Military Code of Justice (UCMJ). By making domestic violence a specific offense, civilian law enforcement can keep track of former service members with domestic abuse records.
Article 128b of the UCMJ states that domestic violence occurs when someone commits a violent offense against a spouse, intimate partner, or immediate family member with the intent to threaten or intimidate. An incident of domestic violence leads to court-martial in the military justice system.
It's important to note that this definition is not limited to physical violence. It also includes psychological and emotional acts. Also, just the threat of violence or intimidation against a spouse, intimate partner, or immediate family is enough to trigger a domestic violence charge.
The Process for Domestic Violence Charges in the Military
Suspected crimes of domestic violence go through both the Family Advocacy Committee and the military justice system. Family Advocacy does not handle the legal side of things, only identification, intervention, and treatment. They will conduct an investigation into the claim of domestic abuse and come to a finding. Although Family Advocacy and military justice are two separate tracks that handle domestic violence in the military, any evidence or statements gathered during the Family Advocacy investigation can be used in military justice proceedings.
Throughout the investigation, the alleged perpetrator's commanding officer may require them to move out of family housing temporarily or prevent them from having contact with the alleged victim via a military protective order. The commander can also prohibit the alleged perpetrator from possessing firearms or munitions, which may prevent the service member from doing their job.
Although a service member might not be court-martialed for a domestic violence allegation, they can still face consequences. A commanding officer can use an allegation to invoke non-judicial punishment (NJP). The penalties for NJP range from confinement on diminished rations to forfeiture of pay and extra duties.
Family Advocacy findings
At the conclusion of their domestic violence investigation, Family Advocacy will determine that the claim of domestic violence is either:
- Substantiated: Domestic abuse has occurred.
- Suspected: The final determination is pending further investigation, which could last up to 12 weeks.
- Unsubstantiated: There is insufficient evidence to support the claim that domestic abuse occurred.
The alleged perpetrator of domestic violence will have a chance to speak with Family Advocacy during the investigation, but may also choose not to. Once there is a finding, a commanding officer can use it as a basis for administrative separation or refusal to re-enlist for the accused service member.
Civil charges of domestic violence
The military only has jurisdiction in a domestic violence case if the accused is a service member or if the act occurs on a base with sole or concurrent federal jurisdiction. If the federal government does not have jurisdiction at a base and the accused is a civilian, the most the military can do is prevent that person from entering a military installation. If the alleged incident occurs off-base between civilians, civilian agencies have jurisdiction on the legal side. Local police may or may not report it to military base officials.
How Does Domestic Violence Affect Your Ability to Carry a Firearm?
If you are a service member accused of domestic violence, your military career is at stake. Although the punishment for domestic violence isn't automatic discharge from the armed forces, you could still end up having to leave the military.
One detrimental effect of a domestic violence offense is the inability to possess a firearm or ammunition. According to the Lautenberg Amendment of the Federal Gun Control Act, anyone convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence may not ship, transport, possess, or receive firearms or ammunition. There is no exception for military personnel engaged in official duties (except in an emergency as determined by a commander), and violating this law is a felony.
It's also a felony for someone to sell or issue a firearm to a person with a domestic violence conviction. If commanders or non-commissioned officers know or suspect that a service member has domestic violence convictions, they cannot issue them a firearm.
The inability to possess a firearm could easily lead to losing your employment, mandatory retraining, or even discharge from the military.
Civil restraining order
If you have a restraining order issued by a civil (non-military) court, it's possible you may not be allowed to carry a firearm. In New Jersey, it's common for restraining orders to prohibit possessing firearms. Depending on the specific provisions in your restraining order, you may have an exception to handle firearms during your official military duties only. If your restraining order specifically states you cannot own or possess a firearm, however, you cannot handle firearms at all, even for non-combat military duties. Also, if your commanding officer has prohibited you from possessing a firearm as a result of your restraining order, you may not possess firearms.
How Does Domestic Violence Affect Your Military Housing?
A charge of domestic violence could force you out of your family housing at JB MDL. Following an allegation of domestic violence, your commanding officer could put you in barracks instead of family housing. They could also issue a military protective order to you, which would prevent you from contacting the alleged victim in any way, even if you live with them.
Military Protective Orders
The armed forces can issue military protective orders (MPO), which function the same way as civil restraining orders do. Note that if you have a restraining order against you from a civil court, it applies to the entire jurisdiction of that court, including military bases, if the state has jurisdiction. It's also possible to be under both an MPO and a civil restraining order at the same time.
Anyone with access to a military base can ask for an MPO, even civilian employees. MPOs may only be ordered against service members, however. The service member must be a spouse, ex-spouse, current or former intimate partner with who the alleged victim lived, or have a child in common with the alleged victim. Furthermore, only abuse victims, abuse advocates, installation law enforcement, or Family Advocacy can request an MPO.
If you have an MPO against you, you may not contact the subject of the MPO, and you may face further restrictions imposed by your commanding officer. Some potential actions the commander could take include:
- Ordering you to move out of military quarters
- Restricting your access to firearms
- Mandating counseling
Unlike civil restraining orders, MPOs do not afford defendants due process. You will not have a chance to tell your side of the story if someone asks for an MPO against you. Your commanding officer can implement it as they see fit. MPOs usually last about 10 days, but they can go longer. If you are residing off-base when the order is issued, the military may notify civilian authorities.
What happens if you violate an MPO?
Violations of an MPO can be charged under Article 90 of the UCMJ, willfully disobeying a superior commissioned officer, or Article 92 of the UCMJ, failure to obey an order or regulation. Maximum penalties for Article 90 violations include:
- Dishonorable discharge
- Forfeiture of all pay and allowances
- Confinement up to 5 years
- If during a time of war, the death penalty
Maximum penalties for Article 92 violations include:
- Dishonorable discharge
- Forfeiture of all pay and allowances
- Confinement up to 2 years
Can You Face Separate Domestic Violence Charges as a Civilian?
You will not be charged both as a civilian and a service member. Either the military or civilian authorities will have jurisdiction over your case. Note that even if your domestic violence case goes through civilian courts, you could still face punitive measures from your commanding officer. Whether the case goes through civilian or military justice, a conviction of domestic violence will go on your record and appear in background checks.
The Department of Defense (DoD) updated the UCMJ to make domestic violence a specific crime so that military authorities could more easily relay the information to civilian law enforcement. Civilian authorities will be able to restrict or prohibit firearms purchases for former service members who were convicted of domestic violence in the military justice system. Therefore, a domestic violence charge may not only lead to the end of your military career but will also negatively impact your civilian life afterward.
Domestic Violence Attorney in New Jersey
If you are a service member facing domestic violence charges in civil court, you will have to find a civilian attorney to represent you. To prevent a domestic violence charge from ruining your military career and disrupting your life, you need a qualified defense attorney.
Joseph D. Lento has represented countless service member clients in the New Jersey courts and can help ensure your rights are protected in a domestic violence case. Contact the Lento Law Firm today to find out what Attorney Lento can do for you.