In New Jersey, restraining orders have long been a domestic matter. The laws were created with the intent to limit harassment — but only if the harasser is somebody the accuser knows. Those who feel threatened by the presence of a stranger have had few legal solutions at their disposal.
New Jersey Senator Jon Bramnick has proposed a bipartisan-backed billthat would relax the state's restrictions on restraining orders and allow them to be issued for non-domestic situations. Social media and dating sites have made it increasingly normal to be harassed and stalked by strangers, and the bill is a well-intentioned move to create safer processes for those victims (mostly women). However, it may create some complications for those accused.
Before Vs. After
Most restraining orders are processed civilly without any criminal charges attached. Those come afterward, if the order is violated. An order can be issued for many reasons but is usually authorized in tandem with domestic violence or sexual abuse accusations. In these situations, the accused is always someone who the victim has a prior relationship with (i.e., an ex, a roommate, etc.).
If the accused is a stranger — not uncommon in stalking cases — the path to a restraining order is more complicated. Without any prior relationship, there must be criminal charges filed before an order can be issued.
Bramnick's bill attempts to change that. If it passes (a likely result due to support from both sides of the political aisle), criminal charges will no longer be a requirement. This is a huge move. The standard of proof is much higher in criminal cases than in civil ones, meaning we will likely see a sizable increase in the amount of restraining orders filed against strangers that might normally not have met the criminal threshold.
What Does It Mean for the Accused?
From a defensive perspective, allowing restraining orders to be easily issued against strangers does open the door for potential abuses of the system. An order can be issued based solely on testimony from the accuser as long as the judge believes there's a reasonable chance that harassment or stalking has occurred. If you cause a stranger to feel threatened — even unintentionally — you might find yourself being served.
While it would still remain a civil matter, there are repercussions of restraining orders beyond fines and jail time. Depending on the terms of the order, you may have to avoid your favorite restaurants or walking routes, relinquish your firearms, or even move. It goes without saying that a violation of the order, no matter how innocent, could bring serious criminal charges.
The Lento Law Firm Can Help
Joseph D. Lento is a top New Jersey defense attorney and an expert in these types of cases. If you have been served a restraining order for stalking or harassing a stranger, regardless of its truthfulness, you need somebody in your corner.
Call Attorney Lento and his team at 888-535-3686 or reach out online to discuss your case.