If you're facing a domestic violence charge in New Jersey, you're undoubtedly worried about what will happen next. Knowing what should happen during a domestic violence call and how the police are supposed to investigate the matter can help you as you navigate these charges. Having an experienced criminal defense attorney by your side to protect your rights is also essential.
Domestic Violence Law in New Jersey
New Jersey takes family violence very seriously. As a result, the police and courts have developed a series of procedures for handling alleged domestic violence incidents to ensure the safety of families and prevent future violence. Under New Jersey law, the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991 defines domestic violence as one or more of a list of specific offenses committed upon someone with whom the perpetrator has a family or intimate dating relationship. Crimes that qualify as domestic violence between two people in a domestic relationship include:
- Criminal sexual contact
- Terroristic threats
- Criminal restraint
- False imprisonment
- Criminal coercion
- Sexual assault
- Criminal mischief
- Criminal trespass
Under New Jersey law, all law enforcement personnel receive specialized domestic violence investigative and response training. The Division of Criminal Justice reviews and revises the training curriculum every two years. All officers must attend this training within 90 days of employment and receive at least four hours of training annually.
New Jersey police departments also utilize “domestic crisis teams,” consisting of officers with training in best practices for handling domestic violence calls and abuse and neglect of the elderly. These teams may also include counselors or clergy to assist with the highly charged emotional issues involved in family violence.
Police Procedure for Domestic Violence Calls
While every police department develops a local policy for handling domestic violence incidents, the state also guides New Jersey police departments. When the police respond to a domestic violence call, they must follow some specific procedures during the investigation.
- Respond to a domestic violence call promptly.
- Thoroughly investigate all allegations of domestic violence.
- Ensure the safety of the victim.
- Notify victims of their rights under the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act.
- Provide victims with information about available social services in a Notice of Rights.
- Provide victims with information about temporary and final restraining orders.
- Provide information to the victim about how to file a Criminal Complaint for a Temporary Restraining Order
Criminal Complaint for a Temporary Restraining Order
While a victim can file a petition for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) alleging an act of domestic violence and prohibiting further abuse, a Complaint for a TRO is a complaint alleging that you've committed an underlying criminal offense that is a “predicate act of domestic violence” in New Jersey. So, for example, an alleged victim can file for a TRO against you and then also file a criminal complaint alleging assault or stalking.
Domestic Violence Reporting
The police must also complete a report concerning the domestic violence call. They will forward the report to the municipal court, the New Jersey State Police, and the Department of Law and Public Safety. The report should contain detailed information about the call, the alleged victim and perpetrator, and the alleged incident, including:
- The relationship between the parties
- The time, date, and location of the alleged incident
- Whether there have been any previous calls and information about them
- Any prior restraining orders or incidents of domestic violence
- The gender of the two parties
- Information about any children or children who witnessed the incident
- Information about any injuries and the severity of the incident
- Details about any weapons involved
- Witness information
- Details of the actions taken by the officers on the scene
- Any useful information about the incident
- Information about violations of restraining orders
- Arrest information, if any
Contempt of a Domestic Violence Court Order
If the officers believe that you have violated a restraining order, they can arrest you.
15. Where a law enforcement officer finds that there is probable cause that a defendant has committed contempt of an order […], the defendant shall be arrested and taken into custody by a law enforcement officer. The law enforcement officer shall follow these procedures:
The law enforcement officer shall transport the defendant to the police station or such other place as the law enforcement officer shall determine is proper. The law enforcement officer shall:
a. Conduct a search of the domestic violence central registry and sign a complaint concerning the incident which gave rise to the contempt charge;
b. Telephone or communicate in person or by facsimile with the appropriate judge assigned pursuant to this act and request bail be set on the contempt charge;
c. If the defendant is unable to meet the bail set, take the necessary steps to insure that the defendant shall be incarcerated at police headquarters or at the county jail; and
d. During regular court hours, the defendant shall have bail set by a Superior Court judge that day. On weekends, holidays and other times when the court is closed, the officer shall arrange to have the clerk of the Family Part notified on the next working day of the new complaint, the amount of bail, the defendant's whereabouts and all other necessary details. In addition, if a municipal court judge set the bail, the arresting officer shall notify the clerk of that municipal court of this information. N.J.S.A. § 2C:25-31 (1994).
New Jersey Domestic Violence Arrests
At a domestic violence call, the officers must arrest you and sign a criminal complaint if there are:
- Signs of injury
- A warrant in effect
- A violation of a no-contact order
- Probable cause to believe you used a weapon
The police may make an arrest at their discretion if they have probable cause to believe an act of domestic violence occurred, but none of the criteria for a mandatory arrest apply. If the officer doesn't have probable cause, they must inform the victim that they can sign a criminal complaint against you. If the alleged victim signs a complaint against you, the police will arrest you.
If both parties have injuries, in deciding whether to make an arrest, the officers must consider:
- The extent of each person's injuries
- Any history of domestic violence between the two
- Each person's fear of physical harm
- Whether one person was acting in self-defense
- Any other relevant factors
The police officers must try to determine who the aggressor was. But if they arrest both of you, they must note why in their report.
Hire an Experienced New Jersey Domestic Violence Lawyer
If you're facing a domestic violence charge, you urgently need legal help. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his skilled team at the Lento Law Firm have been helping New Jersey defendants navigate domestic violence charges for years. Find out how they can help you too. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at (888) 535-3686 to set up a consultation.