The State of New Jersey takes allegations of domestic violence very seriously. If a spouse, partner, or cohabitant accuses you of domestic violence, the repercussions may begin even before you are criminally charged--including restraining orders, restrictions on your custody and gun rights, etc. If you end up being charged with a crime, the stakes are upped considerably. What are the penalties for domestic violence? What happens if you're convicted? Will you go to jail? Will you lose contact with your children?
Though not every claim of domestic violence turns into a criminal case, the potential penalties are very harsh if you are convicted. That's why it's important to have an experienced New Jersey criminal defense attorney on your side from the very beginning. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has extensive experience defending clients against both the charges and repercussions of domestic violence and will ensure your rights are protected. To schedule a consultation, call 888-535-3686.
Overview of Domestic Violence Law in New Jersey
The Protection of Domestic Violence Act of 1991 (PDVA) provides legal protections for alleged victims of domestic violence, which may include a current or former spouse, dating partner, live-in partner, or someone with whom you have a child or are expecting a child. The PDVA lists 19 specific criminal offenses that are considered domestic violence when committed against one of these protected individuals. The crimes listed are:
- Terroristic threats
- Criminal restraint
- False imprisonment
- Sexual assault
- Criminal sexual contact
- Criminal mischief
- Criminal trespass
- Criminal coercion
- Contempt of a domestic violence order
- Cyber harassment
- Any other crime involving risk of death or serious bodily injury
Penalties for Domestic Violence Crimes in New Jersey
Generally speaking, if you are convicted of any of the above-listed crimes against a protected individual, you will face the same possible penalties as if you had committed that crime against anyone else. The PDVA lists these crimes specifically to afford additional protections to the victims (see "Other Consequences" below). The possible penalties will be based on whether you're convicted of misdemeanor or felony-level charges, as well as other factors like prior offenses.
In New Jersey, misdemeanor-level offenses are known as "disorderly persons" offenses. Felony-level crimes are called "indictable offenses" and are classified in four degrees of severity. The penalties you face if convicted of a crime of domestic violence will depend on the specific crime you're charged with, and its level of severity. The range of possible domestic violence penalties is below
Disorderly persons offenses (misdemeanor)
Examples of disorderly persons domestic violence include simple assault and harassment.
- Maximum Fine – $1000
- Maximum Sentence – Six months in jail
- Other possible penalties may include probation and/or mandatory anger management classes.
Fourth-degree indictable offenses (felony)
Examples of fourth-degree domestic violence may include lewdness and stalking.
- Maximum Fine – $10,000
- Maximum Sentence – 18 months in prison
Third-degree indictable offenses (felony)
Examples of third-degree domestic violence may include aggravated assault and burglary.
- Maximum Fine – $15,000
- Sentencing range – 3-5 years in prison
Second-degree indictable offenses (felony)
Examples of second-degree domestic violence offenses may include sexual assault and robbery.
- Maximum Fine – $150,000
- Sentencing range – 5-10 years in prison
First-degree indictable offenses (felony)
First-degree examples of domestic violence include the most serious crimes such as homicide-, rape, and kidnapping.
- Maximum Fine – $200,000
- Maximum Sentence – 10-20 years in prison (possibility of life imprisonment for murder)
Aggravating and Mitigating Factors
As a general rule, if you have prior domestic violence offenses on your record, you can expect your criminal charges to be upgraded by at least one degree. For instance, your alleged crime against your partner may be simple assault, but if you have previously been convicted of domestic violence, the charge will be upgraded from a disorderly persons offense to at least a fourth-degree offense. Likewise, if deadly weapons were used in the incident or if the alleged victim suffered severe bodily injury, you're likely to be charged with a higher-level indictable offense.
Judges in New Jersey have some latitude in determining domestic violence penalties. You can generally expect the following aggravating factors to result in harsher sentencing:
- Prior domestic violence convictions and/or criminal record
- If a child was present during the offense
- If the victim was pregnant at the time of the offense
- If a deadly weapon was used
- If the victim sustained serious bodily injuries from the offense
The court may take into account any of the following as a mitigating factor in domestic violence cases, resulting in reduced punishments:
- If you have no prior domestic violence convictions
- If injury to the victim is minimal or nonexistent
- If your actions were triggered by existing mental or emotional issues (in which case treatment may be required)
- If you took active steps to seek counseling or treatment for yourself after the offense occurred
In addition to the domestic violence penalties listed above, both federal regulations and the protections of the PDVA may result in additional consequences for you if you're convicted of a domestic violence crime in New Jersey. You should be prepared for any or all of the following:
- Restraining order. The alleged victim may file for, and be granted, a restraining order against you. This may limit or prohibit your ability to see your children, enter your home, or have any contact with the victim. A restraining order that is finalized (FRO) may be effective indefinitely and can be issued even if you're never charged with or convicted of a crime.
- Loss of custody/visitation rights. A conviction for domestic violence can often be used in custody disputes, resulting in the loss of your custodial or visitation rights with your children.
- Loss of the right to possess a firearm. Federal law prohibits anyone convicted of a domestic violence crime (or under a restraining order) from owning or possessing a firearm.
- Loss or denial of professional licenses. If your job requires you to have a professional license, such as a teaching certificate, medical license, or law license, a domestic violence conviction can result in the loss or denial of that license.
If you've been accused of any type of domestic violence in New Jersey, your best hope for avoiding or minimizing these severe penalties is to have an experienced New Jersey domestic violence defense attorney in your corner. The Lento Law Firm can help with all aspects of a domestic violence case, from challenging restraining orders to defending against criminal charges. Call our offices at 888-535-3686 to see how we can help.