The current debate over changes to NJ Restraining Order (RO) law highlights the balancing act between modernizing and expanding the law while also preventing misuse. The NJ Senate recently held a hearing on changes to the law proposed by Senator Jon Bramnick. The Bramnick Bill proposes expanding RO law to address instances of “stalking” or harassment by strangers. Currently, the RO law in NJ is set up to address domestic violence but does not provide for ROs in situations where the parties have no prior relationship unless there has been a criminal conviction in the matter.
Hearing Testimony in Support and Against the Bill
While the Bill has been pending for several months, a hearing was held in March 2023.
Negative Concerns on Proposed Changes
- Those opposed to the Bill are concerned that expanding RO availability would “clog the courts” and overburden the system. The requirement for a prior relationship has historically been used as a “filter,” keeping the number of RO petitions to a modest level. While the judicial economy is always a concern, it hardly seems a legitimate reason to deny RO relief to stalking victims.
- There is also concern that an expanded RO statute would allow for misuse of the RO system to address minor landlord/tenant or neighbor disputes. Neighbors could allege criminal mischief for what was essentially a boundary dispute, or a tenant might seek an RO to get an advantage over a difficult landlord.
Comments in Support of Changes
- Currently, there is a lack of immediate RO remedies for victims of stranger stalking or harassment. Victims of stalking often do not know or have a relationship with their stalkers, and the failure of the law to provide relief is unfair and dangerous.
- NJ law has not “kept up with” changes in our society, particularly the role of social media. Supporters advocated that the crimes of stalking, harassment, and cyberstalking/harassment be added to those crimes for which a judge may issue an immediate RO. (No contact orders that the judge can currently use are not as effective as ROs because they do not lead to immediate criminal penalties for violations.)
Weighing Expanded Use vs. Misuse of ROs
As the state legislature continues to grapple with this issue, most people are concerned that the remedies provided by an RO should be made available to victims stalked by strangers. At the same time, it is vital that misuse or abuse of the RO system be addressed by the courts.
If you find yourself served with a restraining order, especially if it is abusive, consider looking at the Lento Law Firm's Restraining Order Survival Guide.
Failing to contest a Restraining Order at the final hearing can have devastating personal and financial consequences and prevent you from owning a weapon or being hired for certain jobs. It is vital that misuse of the RO system is not allowed, and the best defense against it is an experienced RO attorney. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped countless New Jersey clients navigate the court system and defend themselves from restraining orders. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or contact us online.