When someone feels endangered by another person, New Jersey courts may impose a temporary restraining order (TRO) as an immediate precaution. However, a final restraining order (FRO) can have more lasting consequences for the defendant cited in the order.
If you have an upcoming FRO hearing, you should know the basic facts about restraining orders in New Jersey. You should also understand the FRO hearing process that awaits you. An attorney can prepare you for your hearing and represent you throughout the legal process.
The Basics: What Is a Restraining Order in New Jersey?
Before getting into TROs and FROs, we must cover a critical starting point: What does New Jersey define as a restraining order?
Restraining orders are often related to instances of alleged domestic violence. Such orders are also known as protective orders. A restraining order imposes specific conditions on a person and may:
- Forbid you from going to specific locations
- Forbid you from contacting specific individuals (either in-person, electronically, or in written form)
- Forbid you from contacting acquaintances and family members of a specific individual
- Forbid you from being within a certain geographical distance of an individual or location
- Forbid you from possessing weapons
- Impose financial obligations such as child support payments or repayment of medical costs
- Revoke your ownership of a property
- Revoke your custody of children
A judge tailors each restraining order to the case at hand. There are also specific types of protection orders which may have more defined conditions. For example, extreme risk protection orders (N.J.S.A. 2C:58-23) relate specifically to possession of a firearm by a dangerous individual.
What Criminal Offenses Can Lead to the Issuance of a Restraining Order?
The New Jersey State Police list several criminal allegations that can be grounds for a restraining order. These crimes may fall under the domestic violence umbrella and include:
- Criminal restraint (N.J.S.A. 2C:13-2)
- Assault (N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1)
- Harassment (N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4)
- Terroristic threats (N.J.S.A. 2C:12-3)
New Jersey's Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991 (N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17) governs acts of domestic violence. N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 empowers an alleged victim of domestic violence to file civil and criminal complaints. Such complaints may seek result in temporary and final protection orders.
Temporary Restraining Orders (TROs), Explained
New Jersey’s Domestic Violence Court Procedures states that “A victim of domestic violence can obtain a restraining order.” It adds that the first version of a restraining order is temporary and is formally known as a temporary restraining order (TRO).
A TRO is meant to be immediate but not permanent. Because a TRO's purpose is to provide immediate protection, it generally does not reflect the tenets of due process. The court may err on the side of filing a TRO rather than denying the request—it knows that the FRO hearing will be an opportunity for a more robust examination of the case.
The temporary restraining order, therefore, is a prelude to the FRO hearing. The FRO hearing may lead to the issuance of a “final” permanent restraining order.
Alleged victims of domestic violence can contact the Family Practice Division of the New Jersey Superior Court to request a temporary restraining order. The state will schedule a FRO hearing within ten days of receiving the alleged victim's civil and/or criminal complaint.
Final Restraining Orders (FROs), Explained
A final restraining order (FRO) generally adds permanence to the conditions of a temporary restraining order. Because it is a more formal, long-lasting order, the defendant facing a FRO has more rights than they do when facing a TRO.
Once a FRO is in place, it may be difficult to rescind. However, termination of a FRO may be possible if:
- The plaintiff who requested the FRO requests termination of the order
- The defendant successfully fulfills the conditions for terminating the FRO
Even reconciliation between the plaintiff and defendant does not automatically terminate a FRO. This means that the defendant remains subject to a criminal contempt charge (N.J.S.A. 2C:29-9) for violating the FRO even if they are in a consensual relationship with the plaintiff.
Considering the permanence of a FRO, there is much riding on the hearing. This hearing will occur if a plaintiff and defendant cannot resolve their domestic issue and the plaintiff desires a formal protective order.
When and Where FRO Hearings Take Place
Section 4.9 of the State of New Jersey Domestic Violence Procedures Manual details the procedures for a FRO hearing.
FRO hearings generally take place in the same county where the plaintiff filed their request for a TRO. If there is a valid reason, a judge may order that the hearing take place elsewhere. The hearing will occur no more than ten days after filing the TRO complaint unless extenuating circumstances exist.
Procedures for Completing the Hearing
FRO hearings occur similarly to a trial, with a judge determining the outcome of the FRO hearing. The defendant and plaintiff will remain separate throughout the process, consistent with the terms of any protective order.
The hearing will consist of:
- An information-gathering stage, during which time a domestic violence staffer will determine the outcome the plaintiff seeks and explain each party's right to present evidence and witness testimony
- Completion of paperwork, which may be necessary when a plaintiff is proposing financial support (and in certain other circumstances)
- Testimony by the defendant, plaintiff, and any other parties permitted by the court to testify
- Presentation of evidence
- Oral arguments by counsel for the defendant and plaintiff
If it sees fit, the court may take certain actions, such as amending a complaint or delaying the hearing. Upon completing the FRO hearing, the judge may either:
- Enter a formal restraining order with conditions that it deems appropriate
- Dismiss the temporary restraining order and the request for a formal restraining order
- Prolong the conditions of the temporary restraining order until the court reaches a final decision on the proposed FRO
Should the court impose a FRO, then the defendant is beholden to the terms of the order.
What Happens if Parties Fail to Appear at a FRO Hearing?
Law enforcement will ensure that the defendant is properly served. If they receive service, then they are expected to appear at the final restraining order hearing. If either party fails to appear at the FRO hearing, then the judge may:
- Dismiss the FRO request (if the defendant has presented a Request for Dismissal)
- Approve the FRO request (if the defendant fails to attend)
- Reschedule the FRO hearing
The court will attempt to find out why either party has failed to attend. The reason for non-attendance could impact the judge's decision as it relates to the FRO request.
When Does a FRO Become Active?
The judge should explain when a FRO becomes active, but a FRO is generally active when the judge issues the decision. The court may provide a physical copy of a FRO for all parties, serving as formal notice of the protective order.
Can a Defendant Face Criminal Charges for Violating a FRO?
Absolutely. A defendant may be charged with criminal contempt if they violate the terms of a final restraining order. Because a restraining order can include complex, potentially confounding terms, a defendant must be vigilant to avoid violating the order.
N.J.S.A. 2C:29-9 defines contempt as follows:
“A person is guilty of a crime of the fourth degree if the person purposely or knowingly disobeys a judicial order or protective order, pursuant to section 1 of P.L.1985, c.250 (C.2C:28-5.1), or hinders, obstructs, or impedes the effectuation of a judicial order or the exercise of jurisdiction over any person, thing, or controversy by a court, administrative body, or investigative entity.”
The phrase “purposely or knowingly” is critical in any contempt case. Unintentional violation of a FRO may not result in a criminal conviction. However, you may need a strong defense to avoid legal sanctions.
Do You Need an Attorney for a FRO Hearing?
Individuals facing a restraining order hearing should accept an attorney's help. You can technically complete a FRO hearing without an attorney, but ask yourself: Is forgoing a trained legal professional's help really in your interests?
An unfavorable ruling could alter the remainder of your life. Attorney Joseph D. Lento will collect all facts and evidence related to your case to devise a strong defense and represent you during your hearing. Additionally, the Lento Law Firm will file any necessary appeals for you.
Call the Lento Law Firm Today
Contact the Lento Law Firm online or call us today at 888-535-3686. Noting the ten-day scheduling period for FRO hearings, you must call as soon as you can. Attorney Joseph D. Lento will seek the best possible outcome for you.