If you're facing domestic violence allegations after allegedly annoying or harassing telephone calls, you're undoubtedly worried about what may happen. It's a good idea to understand the possible charges you could face and the potential consequences. But an experienced New Jersey criminal defense lawyer can help protect your rights and future.
What Qualifies as Domestic Violence in New Jersey?
In New Jersey, the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991 defines domestic violence as one of a list of specific offenses against someone with whom the perpetrator has an intimate or family relationship. The relationship must be between you and:
- A current or former spouse or intimate partner
- A family member such as a parent, sibling, or child
- Someone you have a child with
However, a roommate without a further intimate relationship does not qualify as someone you are in a “domestic relationship” with.
Crimes qualifying as domestic violence between two people in a domestic relationship include serious crimes such as homicide, sexual assault, kidnapping, and less violent crimes like stalking, harassment, and criminal mischief.
Possible Charges for Harassing Calls
New Jersey crimes involving harassing or annoying telephone calls that qualify as domestic violence include harassment, cyber-harassment, or stalking.
Under New Jersey law, harassment occurs if someone:
- Makes, or causes to be made, one or more communications anonymously or at extremely inconvenient hours, or in offensively coarse language, or any other manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm
- Engages in any other course of alarming conduct or of repeatedly committed acts with purpose to alarm or seriously annoy such other person
Repeated calls with coarse language, calls in the middle of the night, or threatening calls can all be considered harassment. While harassment is generally a petty disorderly persons offense, if you're currently on parole, probation, or serving a term for another crime, harassment becomes a fourth-degree disorderly persons offense. N.J.S.A. § 2C:33-4 (2021).
Harassing communications or calls made over the internet can also be a crime in New Jersey. Cyber-harassment happens when:
"A person commits the crime of cyber-harassment if, while making one or more communications in an online capacity via any electronic device or through a social networking site and with the purpose to harass another, the person: (1) threatens to inflict injury or physical harm to any person or the property of any person;(2) knowingly sends, posts, comments, requests, suggests, or proposes any lewd, indecent, or obscene material to or about a person with the intent to emotionally harm a reasonable person or place a reasonable person in fear of physical or emotional harm to his person; or(3) threatens to commit any crime against the person or the person's property." N.J.S.A. § 2C:33-4.1 (2022).
Harassing calls over internet apps like Instagram, WhatsApp, Google Voice, or Skype could all qualify as cyber harassment. Cyber-harassment is a fourth-degree offense. However, if the person is over 21 and impersonating a minor online, it becomes a third-degree offense.
The definition of stalking in New Jersey also includes “repeatedly committing harassment against a person; or repeatedly conveying, or causing to be conveyed, verbal or written threats or threats conveyed by any other means of communication or threats implied by conduct or a combination thereof directed at or toward a person.” N.J.S.A. § 2C:12-10 (2009). For stalking in violation of a court order, repeated calls may be a third-degree offense. Stalking that “causes a reasonable person to fear” for their safety is a fourth-degree offense.
Penalties for Domestic Violence Convictions
Domestic violence charges related to harassing phone calls fall into two categories. A disorderly persons offense is similar to that of a misdemeanor in other states. An indictable offense is a more serious charge equivalent to a felony. For disorderly persons offenses, you could face:
- Up to six months in jail
- A $500 fine
- Mandatory treatment or domestic violence classes
For an indictable offense, you could face:
- Fourth-degree offense: Up to 18 months in prison
- Third-degree offense: Three to five years in prison
- Second-degree offense: Five to ten years in prison
- First-degree offense: Up to 20 years in prison
New Jersey Restraining Orders
In addition to criminal domestic violence charges, you can also face a Stay Away Order (SAO) issued by a judge in connection with your criminal case. An SAO can order you to refrain from contacting or approaching the alleged victim. Even simply innocuously contacting the alleged victim by phone or text could subject you to additional criminal charges.
The alleged victim can also petition the court for a civil restraining order against you. A restraining order is similar to a Stay Away Order but requires a formal hearing. The judge must find a domestic relationship between you and the petitioner and that an act of domestic violence occurred before issuing the restraining order.
While a restraining order is typically a civil order, violating that order is criminal contempt of court and is a criminal offense. Similarly, violating a Stay Away Order issued by a judge in connection with another criminal case is also a criminal offense. If the alleged victim has a restraining order or Stay Away Order against you, you could face additional criminal charges for contacting them, even if the calls didn't rise to the level of a criminal offense defined by the statutes above.
Hire an Experienced New Jersey Domestic Violence Lawyer
If you're facing allegations that you've harassed someone with repeated calls, particularly if you are or were in a “domestic relationship” with them, it's time to consult a skilled New Jersey criminal defense attorney. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the experienced team at the Lento Law Firm have helped many people in New Jersey through the criminal justice system, and they can help you too. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at (888) 535-3686 to set up a consultation.