If you find yourself accused of domestic violence in New Jersey, it can obviously disrupt your life and family in the short term—but the repercussions of a domestic violence charge and/or conviction can also linger for years after the accusation is made. New Jersey takes domestic violence very seriously, and the law goes to great lengths to protect the alleged victim rather than the accused. Frankly, a single allegation of domestic violence—regardless of whether it's true—has the potential to upend your world for years to come. That's why you need effective, experienced legal representation in your corner as soon as possible after charges are made.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has a long track record of success in defending and protecting the rights of people in New Jersey facing domestic violence charges. If you're facing an uncertain future due to a false accusation or even a momentary lapse in judgment, the Lento Law Firm has compiled the following information so you can know what you're up against—both for the short and long-term—and what steps you can take to right the ship and reestablish your life.
Understanding Domestic Violence Laws in New Jersey
In the State of New Jersey, the laws regarding domestic violence are a bit different than that of other states, intending to offer a wide swath of protection for victims. Based on the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991 (PDVA), New Jersey defines domestic violence not so much by the act itself as by whom the act is committed against. The PDVA names a long list of existing crimes that may be classified as domestic violence when committed against a person whom you are a) married to; b) have been previously married to; c) are living with or have lived with; d) have dated; and/or e) have children with or are expecting children with.
The list includes many acts that are already considered crimes under New Jersey Law but are specifically considered domestic violence when committed against a victim in one of the categories above. The specific crimes include the following:
- Criminal restraint
- False imprisonment
- Terroristic threats
- Sexual assault/criminal sexual contact
- Criminal coercion
- Criminal mischief
- Criminal trespass
As you can see, there are a lot of items on this list that don't even involve physical contact, but they are considered domestic violence based on your relationship with the alleged victim. In addition, if you violate any type of restraining order as requested by the alleged victim, you may face additional charges for violating that restraining order.
What the Law Means for the Accused
The way New Jersey law defines domestic violence has wide ramifications for those who are accused of these crimes. Basically, if you're accused of any of these actions in the context of a relationship with a partner, you're dealing with the following realities:
- You will be subject to the specific penalties of domestic violence crimes if you're convicted—not just the penalties for the crimes if they were committed against someone else; and
- Because the list of possible crimes is wide-reaching, you have a greater chance of being charged with a felony-level offense with more severe consequences.
Criminal Consequences for Domestic Violence Crimes in New Jersey
Depending on the specific type of domestic violence crime and its severity, you could be charged with either a disorderly persons offense (New Jersey's version of a misdemeanor) or an indictable offense (New Jersey's version of a felony).
Misdemeaor-level DV offenses include charges such as simple assault, harassment, stalking, etc. Possible penalties for these types of offenses include probation, anger management classes, and/or up to 6 months in jail. You'll also be assessed with a civil penalty—a fine between $50-$500.
If the domestic violence charge is a felony-level (indictable) offense, you could be facing much more severe penalties, depending on the severity of the charge. Examples of these offenses include aggravated assault, sexual assault, use/possession of a deadly weapon in the context of the alleged offense, etc. New Jersey recognizes four degrees of indictable offenses:
- Fourth-degree: up to 18 months in prison
- Third-degree: 3 to 5 years in prison
- Second-degree: 5 to 10 years in prison
- First-degree: up to 20 years in prison
You may also be subject to stiffer fines and other penalties.
Long-Term Personal Consequences of Domestic Violence Charges in New Jersey
Whether you're facing misdemeanor or felony-level domestic violence charges, it's also important to note that being charged and convicted of these crimes can affect your life negatively for many years to come—even after you have served the initial punishment. Here are a few examples of how a DV conviction can haunt you for the long-term:
You may be alienated/separated from your family.
The judge most likely issued a temporary restraining order against you when you were first charged with a crime. If your partner refuses to request a withdrawal of that restraining order, it could stay in place for some time to come.
You could lose custody or visitation rights.
Domestic violence is often an issue that comes up in custody disputes. If the courts deem your presence to be a risk to your children, you could lose custody of your children and/or the right to visit them.
You could have trouble getting hired or keeping a job.
Many employers run criminal background checks these days, and a domestic violence conviction won't create a good impression. Some employers may also fire you from an existing job if they discover you have a domestic violence conviction on your record. Finally, if your conviction is at the felony level, there will be some restrictions on the types of jobs you can hold. For example, you can't teach in any public or state school with a felony on your record, nor can you work in any place requiring security clearance.
You could have trouble finding a place to live.
Landlords also run criminal background checks on prospective tenants. To them, a domestic violence conviction is a real red flag because it suggests you could cause problems with the neighbors and/or damage to their property. Some landlords won't rent to you as a result.
You could have trouble enrolling in (or paying for) school.
If you decide to enroll in college or trade school, some schools will deny you admission if there is a domestic violence conviction on your record. If they do accept you, you may have difficulty acquiring certain types of financial aid to pay for school.
You may lose your right to vote.
Convicted felons aren't allowed to vote. If your domestic violence charges are at the felony level and you are convicted, you could lose your right to participate in the democratic process.
You may lose your right to carry a firearm.
If you like to hunt, your hunting days may be over—especially if your domestic violence charges are at the felony level. Convicted felons aren't allowed to own firearms.
Experienced Attorney for Domestic Violence Defendants
Considering all that is at stake, it's not an exaggeration to say that being accused of domestic violence in New Jersey can throw your life into complete upheaval. Within minutes or hours, a single allegation or unfortunate incident can cause you to lose access to your home, your family, your children, your job, and even your freedom. Without effective and skilled legal counsel to protect your rights, these short-term effects could easily turn into long-term consequences that last for years.
Don't let a misunderstanding or a lapse in judgment define your entire future. Attorney Joseph D. Lento will work tirelessly to defend your case in court and ensure your rights are protected. Take steps now to ensure that this immediate crisis doesn't cause long-term damage to you and your family. Call the Lento Law Firm today at (888) 535-3686 to see how we can help.