If you're accused of making threats or criminal threats against a family member or a current or former romantic partner, you may be worried about what can happen and whether this qualifies as “domestic violence.” “Criminal threats” are threats to harm someone else, including intimidation and coercion. It's a good idea to understand what qualifies as domestic violence in New Jersey and what charges could stem from making threats against someone else or their property. An experienced New Jersey criminal defense attorney can also guide you through any possible criminal charges.
Domestic Violence in New Jersey
New Jersey's Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991 defines domestic violence in our state as one of several specific crimes committed against someone with whom the perpetrator has a “domestic relationship.” Domestic relationships in New Jersey include:
- Your spouse or intimate partner,
- A former spouse or intimate partner,
- A family member,
- Someone you have a child with.
Making threats against someone you have a domestic relationship with can qualify as domestic violence in New Jersey.
Possible Charges for Criminal Threats:
While there is no specific New Jersey criminal statute specifically outlawing or defining “criminal threats,” making threats to harm someone else can qualify as domestic violence under several crimes. Possible charges for criminal threats in New Jersey include terroristic threats, criminal coercion, harassment, cyber-harassment, and stalking. These crimes can range from “disorderly persons offenses,” similar to misdemeanors in other states, to “indictable offenses,” which are equivalent to felony charges.
- Terroristic Threats
Making threats to commit a violent crime qualifies as “terroristic threats” in New Jersey. Terroristic threats can be a third-degree crime if someone threatens violence to terrorize someone or to make people evacuate a “building, place of assembly, or facility of public transportation,” or if they cause “serious public inconvenience.” The police may also charge these threats as a third-degree crime if you threaten to kill someone, trying to put them “in imminent fear of death” if the circumstances caused them to reasonably believe the threat was immediate and that you were likely to carry it out.
Terroristic threats can be a second-degree crime if it happens during a period of national, state, or county-declared emergency. Moreover, someone charged will be found “strictly liable” if it happens during a state of emergency. It doesn't matter if you didn't know that there was a declared state of emergency at the time of the threat. See N.J.S.A. § 2C:12-3 (2002).
Threatening to commit a violent crime or threatening to kill someone and reasonably causing the victim to fear for their life is a third-degree indictable offense, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $15,000 fine.
- Criminal Coercion
Under New Jersey law, threats can also qualify as criminal coercion. Under New Jersey law, criminal coercion happens if someone threatens to:
- Inflict bodily injury, or any other offense, on anyone,
- Accuse someone of a criminal offense,
- Expose a secret that might subject someone to ridicule, professional harm, hatred, or contempt,
- Take or withhold some action as an official, or cause an official to do so,
- Bring a strike or boycott, unless it is done in negotiation for a group benefit,
- Testify or withhold testimony or information related to a legal claim,
- Perform an act calculated to harm someone's health, safety, business, reputation, or personal relationships.
N.J.S.A. § 2C:13-5 (2015).
Criminal coercion is a fourth-degree offense unless the perpetrator's intent is criminal; then, it is a third-degree offense. You could face up to 18 months in prison for a fourth-degree criminal coercion conviction and a $10,000 fine. You could face up to five years in prison and a $15,000 fine for a third-degree criminal coercion conviction.
New Jersey's harassment statute includes threatening to strike, kick, or shove someone or engaging in “other offensive touching.” Threatening to harm someone in this manner is typically a petty disorderly persons offense. However, if you're currently on probation, parole, or in jail serving a term for another crime, harassment is a fourth-degree offense. N.J.S.A. § 2C:33-4 (2021).
If convicted of harassment, you could face:
- Six months in jail,
- Up to a $500 fine,
- Mandatory domestic violence or treatment classes, and
Making threats over the internet is also a crime in New Jersey. If you threaten to harm someone or their property via a social networking site or an electronic device, it qualifies as domestic violence involving cyber-harassment. A threat qualified as cyber-harassment if you:
- Threaten to harm any person or their property,
- Knowingly send or post indecent or obscene to someone or about someone to cause emotional harm or to fear physical or emotional harm,
- Threaten to commit a crime against someone or their property.
N.J.S.A. § 2C:33-4.1 (2022). Cyber-harassment is generally a fourth-degree offense. But, if you are over 21 and impersonating a minor online, cyber-harassment is a third-degree offense.
If convicted of cyber-harassment, you could face:
- Up to 18 months in prison for a fourth-degree offense,
- Up to a $10,000 fine for a fourth-degree offense,
- Up to five years in prison for a third-degree offense, and
- Up to a $15,000 fine for a third-degree offense.
Making threats in New Jersey can also qualify as stalking. The law defines stalking as “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). Threatening and stalking someone in violation of a restraining order may be a third-degree offense. If stalking causes “a reasonable person to fear” for their safety, it is a fourth-degree offense.
A stalking conviction can result in:
- Up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine for a fourth-degree offense, and
- Up to five years in prison and a $15,000 fine for a third-degree offense.
Hire an Experienced New Jersey Domestic Violence Lawyer
If you're facing domestic violence charges stemming from criminal threats, you need experienced legal guidance as soon as possible. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his skilled legal team at the Lento Law Firm have guided many people through domestic violence charges in New Jersey. Find out how they can help you too. Contact the Lento Law Firm today or give them a call at (888) 535-3686 to set up a consultation.