Simple misunderstandings or petty feuds can escalate, and in some cases, lead to an allegation of harassment. You may be accused of harassment though the charges are entirely baseless. Whatever the nature of your harassment charges are, having attorney Joseph D. Lento in your corner can best help you through a difficult time.
Legal consequences for any harassment-related offense can be significant, ranging from fines to jail time. A conviction may affect several features of your life, from employment to child custody.
For your sake, we'll explain what consequences you may face for any pending charges. We'll also let you know why clients across New Jersey ask the Lento Law Firm to defend them and to fight for a positive outcome.
How New Jersey Law Defines Harassment
N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4 defines harassment in New Jersey. It lists the following acts as criminal if the person commits the acts “with the purpose to harass another.” The state may allege harassment against someone who:
- “Makes, or causes to be made, a communication or communications anonymously or at extremely inconvenient hours, or in offensively coarse language, or any other manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm,” or:
- “Subjects another to striking, kicking, shoving, or other offensive touching, or threatens to do so,” or:
- “Engages in any other course of alarming conduct or of repeatedly committed acts with purpose to alarm or seriously annoy such other person”
These offenses, while listed in the same statute, stand on their own. Being accused of any single one of these offenses can trigger a formal charge of harassment.
These definitions are not as black-and-white as they may first appear. Terms like “coarse language,” “annoyance,” “alarm,” and “offensive” remain open to interpretation.
The apparent subjectivity of New Jersey's harassment statutes makes it critical that you have a skilled lawyer to argue your case.
Note that other statutes (such as N.J.S.A. 18A:37-15, which governs harassment on school property) could be relevant to your case.
Widespread internet access has opened the floodgates to a relatively new type of harassment: Cyber harassment. Digital communication presents countless opportunities for a seemingly harmless conversation to stray into perceived harassment.
N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4.1 pertains to any online communication, including those made through social media. Someone may be charged with cyber harassment if, “with the purpose to harass another,” that person:
- “Threatens to inflict injury or physical harm to any person or the property of any person,” or:
- “Knowingly sends, posts, comments, requests, suggests, or proposes any lewd, indecent, or obscene material to or about a person with the intent to emotionally harm a reasonable person or place a reasonable person in fear of physical or emotional harm to his person,” or:
- “Threatens to commit any crime against the person or the person's property”
Like acts that qualify as non-cyber harassment, cyber harassment offenses stand alone. Being accused of any single act of cyber harassment may expose you to criminal charges.
While some cases of cyber harassment may be clear-cut, many are not. Digital communication is particularly ripe for misinterpretation, as online conversations often lack nuance and context.
The Importance of “Intent” in Any Harassment Case
The clause “with the purpose to harass another” is critical to New Jersey's harassment laws. The word “purpose” speaks to a person's intent to cause some type of harm to a victim—generally annoyance or alarm.
By the letter of the law, failing to show intent to harass means failing to prove an allegation of harassment. This is true in both cases of in-person and digital harassment.
Without provable intent, acts like using profanity and calling someone an offensive name do not qualify as harassment.
How the Courts Have Interpreted Harassment Laws
Several landmark cases display how courts interpret New Jersey's statutes on harassment. One precedent-setting case is State v. Hoffman, which illustrates the high bar for proving a defendant's intent to harass.
In the case of New Jersey State v. Brian P. Hoffman, a New Jersey appellate court ruled that Hoffman mailing a ripped-up order of support to his ex-wife did not violate harassment statutes.
Because the state could not prove Hoffman's intent to cause alarm or annoy his former spouse, it found him not guilty of harassment. This case illustrates the significant burden that the state must meet to prove intent to harass.
Other preexisting cases may be relevant to your case. Your lawyer must research such cases and apply legal precedent in a way that suits your defense.
Potential Defenses Against a Charge of Harassment
The following defenses may be effective against an allegation of harassment.
Your Actions Have Been Presented Without Context
Context is critical when allegations of harassment arise. A phrase as straightforward as “watch your back” may constitute either a threat or a sign of support, depending on the context of the statement.
Your lawyer will present the context necessary to explain your actions. For example, by showing that you were commenting in jest, they may effectively prove that your conduct was not harassing in nature.
The Allegations Against You Are Untrue
Some harassment cases arise from allegations that did not occur or did not occur in the way the prosecution has presented. The material falsity of the allegations against you may be a compelling defense.
You Had No Intent to Annoy or Alarm
If you claim that you had no intent to annoy or alarm another party through your actions, the burden of proof rests with the prosecution. They must prove that you did intend to annoy or alarm the person who alleges harassment. As we've discussed, this is a difficult standard of proof to reach.
The Accuser's Behavior Is Not Consistent with Harassment
If someone accuses you of harassment but continues to text or call you, then their behavior may cast doubt on their allegation of harassment.
Joseph D. Lento forms a defense based on the client's specific case. He and his team will gather the facts and evidence for your case, then identify the most appropriate defense.
Possible Punishments for Harassment
Per N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4, a charge of harassment generally qualifies as a petty disorderly persons offense. Being convicted of a petty disorderly persons offense can land you in jail for up to 30 days. You may also pay a $500 fine.
The following conditions may elevate a harassment charge to an indictable, fourth-degree offense:
“A person commits a crime of the fourth degree if, in committing an offense under this section, he was serving a term of imprisonment or was on parole or probation as the result of a conviction of any indictable offense under the laws of this State, any other state or the United States.”
A conviction of a fourth-degree offense can result in a jail sentence of up to 18 months.
Other Criminal Offenses That May Be Related to Harassment
You could be charged with harassment in conjunction with other criminal charges. These charges could include:
- Stalking (N.J.S.A. 2C:12-10.1)
- False imprisonment (N.J.S.A. 2C:13-3)
- Assault (N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1)
- Various forms of domestic violence
You can visit our website for more details on these specific criminal charges. The Lento Law Firm handles these case types, too.
Should You Hire an Attorney?
A harassment conviction may negatively affect:
- Your current employment status
- Your prospects for future employment
- Your earning power
- Your ability to maintain or obtain custody of children
- Your ability to obtain a loan
- Your personal relationships
- Your overall wellbeing
These are life-changing consequences that may await should you be convicted of harassment or related criminal charges. Joseph D. Lento will exhaust every effort to protect you from these consequences.
The Lento Law Firm serves clients by:
- Developing a comprehensive strategy for their defense
- Gathering all evidence that suggests innocence of harassment charges
- Interviewing any witnesses who can support their case
- Completing all legal paperwork
- Dealing with attorneys, judges, and others involved in the legal process
- Hiring experts
- Defending your rights
- Seeking the best possible outcome to your case
Notification of a criminal charge can be a punch to the gut. Our job is to ease your mind by taking your case off your hands. Let us handle your defense while you focus on your preexisting responsibilities.
Contact Joseph D. Lento Today About Leading Your Defense
The Lento Law Firm handles harassment cases of all types. Whether you've been accused of harassment by a co-worker, romantic partner, acquaintance, or virtual stranger, you need a strong defense.
While the state faces a high burden of proof, we take no chances when it comes to your freedom or future. If you have committed an act of harassment, it's critical that we seek a positive outcome. If you have been falsely accused, we may pursue complete dismissal of the charges against you.
The sooner you call Joseph D. Lento, the sooner he and his team can begin working on your case. Call us today at (888) 535-3686 or reach out to us online.