If you're facing domestic violence allegations in New Jersey, you're undoubtedly worried about what will happen next and how you can defend yourself. It's important to remember that you are innocent until proven guilty. Whether you're facing a criminal domestic violence charge or a restraining order hearing, a skilled criminal defense attorney well versed in handling New Jersey domestic violence claims can help.
What Is Domestic Violence?
In New Jersey, thePrevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991 defines domestic violence as one of a specific list of criminal charges that happen between two people in a “domestic relationship.” A domestic relationship is one between:
- Current or former spouses or intimate partners
- Those in a current or former dating relationship
- Family members like parents, children, and siblings
- Those with a child together
The criminal statutes that qualify as domestic violence include:
- Cyber harassment
- Terroristic threats
- Criminal sexual contact
- Sexual assault
- Criminal restraint
- False imprisonment
- Criminal coercion
- Criminal mischief
- Criminal trespass
If the police were called to a domestic violence incident, you may face domestic violence charges. However, someone you're in a domestic relationship with can also sign a criminal complaint for domestic violence against you. Aside from criminal charges, someone can also apply for a civil restraining order against you based on domestic violence allegations. When hiring an attorney, it's essential to hire someone with experience handling both criminal domestic violence allegations and restraining order matters.
Defending a Domestic Violence Restraining Order
It's important to defend yourself against a restraining order alleging domestic violence. If you don't, the court may enter a default order against you, adding you to the state's domestic violence registry and preventing you from contacting or approaching the applicant. A restraining order could also affect child custody and order you to pay the petitioner financial support.
To defend you at the hearing, your attorney will use a wide range of evidence, testimony, and cross-examination to present your side of the story to the judge, including:
- Police Reports: Your attorney will look for police reports related to the allegations in the restraining order application. If they don't exist and the petitioner never notified the police, the allegations are less credible.
- TRO Transcript: The judge will hold an ex parte hearing with only the applicant when the petitioner first applies for a temporary restraining order. The transcript of this hearing can give you and your attorney more details about the allegations. Your attorney can also use this transcript to cross-examine the applicant.
- Witnesses: Your attorney can use witnesses to give any alleged domestic violence allegations more context and present your side of the story.
- Medical Records or Photos: Your attorney will use any medical reports and photos related to alleged injuries, or lack of medical reports, to question the applicant about their allegations against you.
- Past Allegations: During the hearing, the plaintiff may try to testify about alleged past allegations of domestic violence. Your attorney will typically object to allegations not contained in the original restraining order application. Your attorney may argue that bringing in these past allegations is prejudicial and didn't give you notice and adequate time to prepare a defense against them. Under existing New Jersey case law, a defendant can't be convicted of domestic violence charges based solely on allegations that weren't in the complaint.
Defending a Domestic Violence Criminal Charge
When defending criminal charges, your attorney will use many of the same techniques to question the credibility of your accuser and evidence against you. Your attorney will use transcripts, police reports, medical reports, photographs, and witness testimony to defend you and attack the state's case. However, the two main defenses used in domestic violence cases include self-defense and “de minimis infractions.”
If you believe that you need to use force to protect yourself or someone else from the actions of another, you may have a valid affirmative defense against criminal domestic violence charges. Your attorney may use witnesses to the incident, documentation of any self-defense injuries you incurred, and the statements the police took at the time of the incident in your defense.
2. De Minimis Infractions
The “de minimis infraction” doctrine holds that minor conduct is too trivial to be considered a violation of a criminal statute. We often use this defense for allegations of domestic violence based on harassment, a common foundation for criminal domestic violence charges. Under New Jersey law, harassment happens when:
- 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;
- Subjects another to striking, kicking, shoving, or other offensive touching, or threatens to do so; or
- Engages in any other course of alarming conduct or of repeatedly committed acts with purpose to alarm or seriously annoy such other person.
N.J.S.A. § 2C:33-4 (2021). To be convicted of harassment, the prosecution must show that you had a “conscious objective” to harass. A small infraction with heated or inflammatory words won't necessarily be enough to prove harassment, and an experienced criminal defense attorney can navigate this defense, protecting your rights.
Hire an Experienced New Jersey Domestic Violence Lawyer
Whether you're facing criminal domestic violence charges or a restraining order hearing alleging domestic violence, you need skilled legal guidance right away. Don't let the prosecutor or police force you to plead guilty to criminal charges or simply accept a restraining order against you without defending yourself. You need someone by your side protecting your rights. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the skilled legal team at the Lento Law Firm have been defending New Jersians from domestic violence allegations for years, and they can help you too. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at (888) 535-3686 to set up a consultation.