If you live in New Jersey and are accused of domestic violence, you should be prepared for some significant life disruptions--even before you're officially charged with a crime. Simply being accused of domestic violence can result in a restraining order that forces you from your home and bars you from contact with your family and/or children. If there is any evidence of injury or other probable cause, police must make an arrest on a domestic violence call, even if the circumstances are misleading. And any restraining order or conviction could bar you from owning firearms under federal law.
Every county in New Jersey, and every municipality within those counties, has a plan for dealing with alleged domestic violence and protecting the victims. While the law does offer much-needed protection for the abused, it, unfortunately, can also be quite unfair for those who are falsely accused. It's not uncommon, in fact, for disgruntled spouses and partners to raise false claims of domestic violence, whether for pure vengeance, to wrestle away custody rights, etc.
Domestic Violence Defense at the County Level
If you're facing domestic violence charges in New Jersey, it's important to understand how these cases are prosecuted at the county level. Depending on where you live, the local prosecutor may take a very different approach than another county's prosecutor. Having a New Jersey criminal defense attorney who understands law enforcement and criminal justice at the local level can make a huge difference in the outcome of your case. Attorney Joseph D. Lento helps defendants accused of domestic violence all across New Jersey. To schedule a consultation, call 888-535-3686.
How Domestic Violence Is Defined in New Jersey
The Protection of Domestic Violence Act of 1991 (PDVA) lists 19 criminal offenses that are categorized as domestic violence when the victim is a current or former spouse, dating partner, live-in partner, or someone with whom you have a child or are expecting a child. This law doesn't necessarily make the penalties for these crimes more severe, but it does take additional measures to protect the alleged victims, especially when it comes to obtaining restraining orders.
The specific crimes mentioned are:
- Terroristic threats
- Criminal restraint
- False imprisonment
- Sexual assault
- Criminal sexual contact
- Criminal mischief
- Criminal trespass
- Criminal coercion
- Contempt of a domestic violence order
- Cyber harassment
- Any other crime involving risk of death or serious bodily injury
Prosecuting Domestic Violence Crimes in New Jersey Counties
In New Jersey, the vast majority of domestic violence cases are prosecuted at the county and/or municipal level. The state is divided into 21 counties, and each has its own prosecutor's office. These offices are responsible for prosecuting all criminal cases that occur within their jurisdiction, including domestic violence cases.
If you're charged with a crime qualifying as domestic violence, how and where your case is tried will depend on the severity of the alleged offense and the type of charges you're facing. Many basic offenses like simple assault are charged as disorderly persons (misdemeanor) offenses, while more serious violent crimes like aggravated assault or crimes resulting in serious injury will be charged as indictable offenses (felonies).
If you are charged with a disorderly persons offense: Your case will most likely be held in the municipal court of the city, borough, or township where the alleged offense took place. Your case will be heard and decided by the municipal court judge, not a jury. If convicted, you're likely to face up to 6 months in jail, fines up to $1000, probation, and mandatory anger management courses.
If you're charged with an indictable offense (first, second, third, or fourth-degree): Your case will be tried at the Superior Court for the county in which the alleged offense happened. You'll be tried by a jury, and if convicted, you could face anywhere between 18 months and 20 years in prison, depending on the severity of the offense.
Click the links below to learn more about domestic violence charges in the individual counties of New Jersey:
- Atlantic County
- Bergen County
- Burlington County
- Camden County
- Cape May County
- Cumberland County
- Essex County
- Gloucester County
- Hudson County
- Hunterdon County
- Mercer County
- Middlesex County
- Monmouth County
- Morris County
- Ocean County
- Passaic County
- Salem County
- Sussex County
- Somerset County
- Union County
Long-Term Consequences of Domestic Violence Charges
Being convicted of a domestic violence crime carries serious repercussions on its own, but without proper legal representation, even being accused of domestic violence can significantly impact your life. Some of these consequences include:
- Being hit with a restraining order. The person accusing you of domestic violence can seek a restraining order against you, whether or not you're actually charged with a crime. A restraining order can restrict or prevent you from having any contact with your significant other, force you from your home, and impact your ability to see your children. If the restraining order is finalized, it remains in effect indefinitely.
- Loss or modification of custody/visitation rights. Allegations of domestic violence are often used as leverage in custody battles and may result in your losing custody or visitation rights.
- No right to possess a firearm. If you're convicted of a domestic violence crime, or if you have a restraining order against you, you may have to surrender your firearms under federal law, and you won't be allowed to purchase or own one after that.
- Denial or loss of professional licenses. If you work in a profession requiring professional licensing, a domestic violence conviction could result in your license being denied or revoked.
As you can see, there is much at stake if you are accused of domestic violence in any county in New Jersey. An experienced New Jersey domestic violence defense lawyer can improve your chances of a more favorable outcome, whether it's contesting unfair restraining orders or defending against the actual criminal charges. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has years of experience helping defendants like you navigate the complexities of domestic violence charges. Call our offices at 888-535-3686 to see how we can help.