In New Jersey, the criminal act of harassment may fall under the purview of domestic violence. This means that an allegation of harassment may be grounds for a restraining order (not to mention more serious criminal sanctions).
If you have been accused of harassment, you should prepare for the legal processes ahead of you. Whether or not you face formal criminal charges, you may face the prospect of a permanent restraining order. Do not accept this order without a fight.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento specializes in harassment issues. He can help you with a criminal case, restraining order hearing, and any other challenges that lie ahead.
What Does New Jersey Consider Harassment?
N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4 explains that when done “with the purpose to harass,” the following acts qualify as harassment:
- Communicating with someone at “extremely inconvenient hours”
- Communicating using “offensively coarse language”
- Communicating in any manner “likely to cause annoyance or alarm”
- Threatening or making physical contact with another person (this may also expose the aggressor to more serious criminal charges)
- Engaging “in any other course of alarming conduct or of repeatedly committed acts with purpose to alarm or seriously annoy such other person”
This statute also notes that harassment is generally a petty disorderly persons offense. However, harassment can become a fourth-degree offense under certain conditions, including when the offender is imprisoned, paroled, or on probation.
When Does Harassment Become a Domestic Violence Matter?
New Jersey’s Prevention of Domestic Violence Act categorizes 19 crimes as domestic violence when they occur under certain conditions. Harassment is one of those 19 crimes.
The relationship between a plaintiff and defendant ultimately determines whether harassment qualifies as domestic violence. The state may treat an act of alleged harassment as domestic violence if:
- The plaintiff and defendant are married
- The plaintiff and defendant are divorced or separated
- The plaintiff and defendant have shared a residence
- The plaintiff and defendant share a child
- The plaintiff and defendant are expecting a child together
- The plaintiff and defendant have dated
If alleged harassment qualifies as domestic violence, the plaintiff may request a temporary restraining order (TRO).
Can a Judge Issue a Temporary Restraining Order Against You Without a Criminal Conviction?
If your alleged offense falls under the purview of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, then yes. When a plaintiff requests the issuance of a TRO, then a New Jersey Superior Court judge can grant the request without your input or presence.
The issuance of a temporary restraining order against someone accused of harassment is known as an ex parte ruling or ex parte restraint. N.J.S.A. 2C:14-15 explains that a judge can issue this emergency ruling “to protect the safety and well-being of an alleged victim on whose behalf the relief is sought.”
A temporary restraining order may have many of the same effects as a final restraining order. Stipulations of a TRO may include:
- That the defendant not contact the plaintiff, either directly or through a third party
- That the defendant avoid visiting specific premises
- That the defendant forfeit any weapons, including firearms, to law enforcement
- That the defendant does not contact children shared with the plaintiff
- Other measures that the judge deems appropriate
A temporary restraining order does not mean the defendant is guilty of harassment. A restraining order is not a criminal order but a civil one. While a TRO is standard practice in domestic dispute cases, a final restraining order is a far more consequential measure.
Will You Face a Final Restraining Order (FRO) For Alleged Harassment?
If a New Jersey court issues a temporary restraining order against you, you will have to attend a final restraining order hearing. New Jersey Courts explain that your attendance at the FRO hearing is mandatory—if you fail to attend, then “the court can decide the case without you, and give the other person the FRO.”
You have the right to an attorney who can facilitate your case during an FRO trial. Your attorney may:
- Present witnesses
- Question both your own witnesses and witnesses presented by the plaintiff
- Present evidence
- Critique evidence and facts presented by the plaintiff and their attorney
- Respond directly to arguments made against you
- Present an oral case for the denial of the FRO request
A permanent restraining order can exist independent of criminal proceedings. Even if harassment charges against you are never filed or dismissed, you remain bound by the conditions of the restraining order.
What Are the Consequences of a Final Restraining Order?
If an FRO request stemming from harassment is successful, then you may face
- Long-term or permanent revocation of your right to own firearms
- Loss of child custody
- A permanent ban from specific locations, including those that you frequent often
- Financial obligations imposed by the state
- The threat of prosecution for violating the terms of the FRO, even if a violation is unintentional
Violating terms of your FRO may result in a charge of criminal contempt, further sullying your record and potentially compromising your freedom.
An FRO may also require your entry into the state's Domestic Violence Central Registry. While this database is only available to certain courts and law enforcement, the fingerprinting and photographing process—as well as the formal documentation of your FRO—may be unpleasant.
Beyond specific terms of the restraining order, an FRO may:
- Require you to seek new housing
- Interfere with your job
- Require you to obtain alternative transportation
- Limit your time with your children
- Be costly and distressing
You generally have 45 days to appeal an FRO ruling. However, the terms of the FRO go into effect upon the judge's order.
Here are additional questions that anyone facing a restraining order should consider.
Let an Experienced Attorney Represent You
Attorney Joseph D. Lento knows how simple misunderstandings can escalate into allegations of harassment. Attorney Lento is a highly experienced advocate who has helped hundreds of clients facing restraining orders, criminal charges, and potentially life-changing consequences.
Attorney Lento and the Lento Law Firm will:
- Review the facts of your case
- Develop a strong defense
- Prepare you for an FRO hearing, criminal case, and other upcoming proceedings
- Accompany you to all case-related matters
- Fight for the best outcome
Legal issues are never easy to face, and you should not go it alone. With Joseph D. Lento leading your defense, you will have an attorney in your corner who will work tirelessly for the best possible outcome. Whether your restraining order is pending or you're seeking an appeal or another potential resolution, the Lento Law Firm is here to help.
Call attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 to discuss your case. You may also submit your case online using this link.