Text messaging is a quick and easy way to communicate with anyone, from a work colleague to a romantic partner. The downside, though, is that it's easy to say something you might regret later – and once the message is out there, it's difficult to retract.
If you're facing a restraining order (RO), text messages can be problematic. Despite what people commonly believe, texts are not private, and they can be used as evidence. Here's how a simple text can affect your RO case.
What Is a Restraining Order?
First, let's remind ourselves what a restraining order is.
ROs are court orders used to stop an individual (the defendant) from behaving in a certain way. If granted, a RO normally specifies that the defendant can't contact the alleged victim by any means.
“Contact” includes anything from phone calls to social media and text messaging. In other words, if there's a record of you sending a text message – or receiving a text from the other party – it could be considered a communication.
Can Texts Be Used Against Me in Court?
ROs are issued to protect victims of assaultive behavior from further harm. Texts could be used against you to prove a pattern of behavior, such as:
If a text could promote anxiety, fear, or distress to the victim, then it may be used to show why, on the preponderance of the evidence, the victim needs a restraining order.
Challenging Text Message Evidence
Just because a text exists doesn't mean you can't challenge it. It may not be enough for a victim to say they received a text – even if they can present the message in court. You might be able to prove that, for example, you didn't send the text (i.e., it's not authentic) or it's irrelevant to the case.
Can a Text Message Violate a Restraining Order?
Yes. If there's a RO against you and it stipulates no contact, then you're violating the order by sending a text – no matter how innocent or innocuous the message may be.
In NJ, RO violations are considered contempt of court. Contempt of court is usually a third or fourth-degree offense, and the penalties include fines and, depending on the level of offense, jail time. Harsher penalties may apply for repeat offenses.
Think Twice Before Sending That Text
Text messages are simple to retrieve, and they can be used as evidence against you. Given how serious ROs can be, don't send any messages which you might regret later.
If you're unsure how to handle an RO matter, or you're facing a RO and don't know where to turn, call the Lento Law Firm. Joseph Lento and his Criminal Defense Team can help you through the process. Call 888.535.3686 or leave us a message online.