New Jersey and all states allow victims of domestic violence, stalking, harassment, and other crimes to obtain protection orders from their abusers. Most of the time, the law falls under state jurisdiction, but there are times when the crime elevates to the federal level.
If you have been arrested or are under investigation for federal interstate violation of protection order, you have every right to be concerned. You could face harsh penalties if convicted, and the whole ordeal can have serious repercussions on your life, your reputation, and your future. You need a federal criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to help you understand the charges and work with you to develop an effective defense.
What Is Interstate Violation of Protection Order?
State courts approve protection orders in cases of violence, abuse, harassment, and stalking. Examples include Protection for Abuse (PFA) orders, Protection from Intimidation Orders (PFIO), and Sexual Violence Protection Orders (SVPO). Also, most states recognize protection orders issued in other states, and they can work with each other to prosecute violations.
Although the federal government does not get involved with enforcing most violation of protection order offenses, the government can bring federal charges against you if any of the following apply:
- Travel or conduct of the offender – You have a protection order against you and crossed state lines to violate the order, or you traveled in interstate or foreign commerce or entered or left an Indian country for the purposes of violating the order.
- Causing travel of victim – You caused another person to travel in interstate or foreign commerce or enter or leave an Indian country by using threats, force, coercion, duress, or fraud that would violate the protection order.
Federal jurisdiction also applies when the offense occurs aboard U.S. ships and vessels in U.S. waters.
In order to prosecute, the government will have to show:
- The accuser has a court-ordered protection order to prevent credible threats, violence, injury, or repeated harassment from you.
- You traveled across state or country lines or took your accuser across state or international boundaries with the intent to violate the protection order.
- You engaged in conduct that violated the order.
Most protection orders forbid the abuser from having any contact with their accusers, which includes any form of communication or simply being in proximity to the accuser as defined by the order.
Penalties for Interstate Violation of Protection Order
If found guilty of the crime, the penalties you could face will depend on the facts and circumstances of your case. You could get up to five years in prison for any type of violation, but you can receive higher sentences depending on whether anyone was injured and the extent of their injuries, for instance:
- Ten years maximum if you seriously injured the person or used a dangerous weapon during the offense
- 20 years max if you caused life-threatening or disfiguring injuries
- Life in prison or the death penalty if you killed the accuser
All penalties include fines, and you may also have to pay restitution to the accuser under the Violence Against Women Act. Restitution is the money you would have to pay as compensation, and it can include virtually any expense the accuser incurred because of your violating the protection order. Examples include medical and psychological treatment, physical therapy, transportation costs, lost wages, attorney's fees, childcare expenses, and any other financial losses.
Another penalty falls under the federal Gun Control Act. The law prohibits anyone convicted of domestic violence or anyone who has a protection order against them from owning a gun. If caught with a firearm in your possession, you could receive additional charges and penalties, which can go as high as ten years in prison, along with substantial fines.
Violation of Protection Order Crimes in New Jersey
You can face state charges for violation of a protection order along with federal charges if the order was issued in New Jersey or if you enter New Jersey to commit the crime.
The crime is a fourth-degree felony and is prosecuted as criminal contempt. You can receive up to 18 months in prison, along with up to $10,000 in fines. If you have previous convictions of disorderly persons domestic violence, or contempt of restraining order, you will receive a mandatory 30-day jail sentence.
Defenses for Interstate Violation of Protection Order
To be convicted of the crime, federal prosecutors will have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you crossed state lines and engaged in activity that violated the protection order. You likely have several defense options available that can include:
- Did not cross state lines – If the alleged violation occurred only within the state and did not affect interstate commerce, you should not face federal charges.
- Lack of intent – You may have crossed state lines, but you did not do so to intentionally violate the terms of the protection order. Maybe your accuser went to a location without your knowledge, and you just happened to travel to the same location and ran into them or they saw you walking down the street. If you had no intention of stalking or harassing your accuser, you may have a defense.
- False accusations – Maybe you did not violate the protection order in the first place, but your accuser was seeking revenge and falsely accused you of having violated the order.
- Lack of evidence – Although federal prosecutors may have enough evidence to charge you, that does not mean they have enough to convict you. Perhaps there is simply not enough evidence to support you violated the order to convince all 12 members of the jury.
Additionally, the law is not clear on the “extent of notice” you should have had regarding a protection order. In other words, you may not have known there was a protection order against you, particularly if it was issued in another state.
You need to consider all of your options when developing your defense, and you need an experienced federal defense attorney for help.
Get Help from an Experienced Federal Defense Attorney
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has successfully defended many clients in New Jersey district court on interstate violation of protection order charges and other federal offenses. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or fill out our contact form to request a confidential consultation.