If you have been accused by someone of harassment or assault in New Jersey, you may have to deal with the added complication of having a restraining order against you. Restraining orders are issued by the court to protect individuals from those whom they believe may pose a threat to them. They can call for no contact with the protected party, but they also limit interactions between them and other relevant people in their lives, such as friends or acquaintances. A restraining order may even prohibit you from going to work or school if you share these spaces with your accuser. And if a spouse or live-in partner obtains a restraining order against you, you'll have to leave your home in order to comply with the order. Suffice it to say that on top of being accused of a criminal offense, a restraining order can make life much more difficult for you.
Defending yourself against accusations of harassment or assault is one thing; dealing with a restraining order is a much more immediate problem. You need an experienced New Jersey defense attorney like Joseph D. Lento to help navigate these troubled waters and help ensure your rights are protected. Let's take a closer look at restraining orders in the context of assault or harassment charges, how these intersect, and what you need to know.
Why Restraining Orders Are Used in Conjunction with Assault or Harassment Charges
For someone to allege that you assaulted them physically or sexually, or that you're harassing them illegally—these are significant accusations on their own. But it takes time to process criminal charges such as these, and the prosecutors want to be sure they have a solid case before going into the courtroom. During that time, you're generally allowed to walk freely. If your accuser believes they are in imminent danger from you in the meantime—or if they simply want to convey the idea that you are an imminent threat—they might petition the court to issue a restraining order against you in the meantime. If the restraining order is granted, you will not be legally allowed to make contact with, or come within a certain distance of, the person accusing you.
How a Restraining Order Can Complicate Your Life
You might think it's a simple enough task to stay away from someone who has a restraining order against you—but in reality, it can be much more challenging than you think. After all, unless you've been accused by a stranger of stalking them, chances are the person accusing you of wrongdoing is someone with whom your path crosses on a regular basis. Remember, the restraining order is against you, not the other person, so they don't have to change their behavior patterns—you have to change yours. Consider the following examples:
- If your accuser goes to the same hangouts as you do, you may no longer be able to go those hangouts when they are around.
- If your accuser is a coworker in a small office space, the simple act of going to work might be a violation of your restraining order.
- If your accuser is a spouse or someone you share a home with—you have to find some other place to stay immediately, or you face violating the restraining order.
What Happens If You Violate the Restraining Order
If you violate the terms of a restraining order in New Jersey, you could be charged with criminal contempt, which is a fourth-degree felony offense. If convicted of criminal contempt, you could be facing up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine—just for being in the wrong place where the plaintiff happens to be! This would be in addition to any additional criminal charges of harassment or assault you might already be facing.
Can someone really get a restraining order against me over claims of harassment?
If someone accuses you of assaulting them (whether physically or sexually), it's fairly easy to justify the need for a restraining order on those terms. But accusations of harassment can be a little more ambiguous—after all, a judge probably won't grant a restraining order against you just because you happen to be annoying someone. While harassment is a disorderly persons offense under N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4, it may not be enough on its own to warrant a restraining order. For someone to obtain a restraining order over claims of harassment, the harassment generally needs to fall more into the arena of stalking or threats. In other words, if the alleged harassment makes the person feel you have an intent to harm them or if they feel particularly unsafe, the judge may grant a restraining order in such cases.
If I violate a restraining order by accident, does that constitute criminal contempt?
Technically, no. According to N.J.S.A. 2C:29-9, a person must “purposely or knowingly disobey a judicial order or protective order” in order to commit criminal contempt. If you tend to cross paths with your accuser on a regular basis, you may inadvertently get too close to them. If this happens, you might be charged with criminal contempt, but a good criminal defense attorney will seek to have these charges dropped on the grounds that you were not purposely or knowingly disobeying the restraining order.
How an Attorney Can Help
In addition to defending against any charges of assault or harassment, a good New Jersey criminal defense attorney can help mitigate the fallout of an unfair or inappropriate restraining order. In many cases, the judge will first issue a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) limiting your contact with the accused until a hearing can take place—at which point the judge may make the restraining order permanent, as a Final Restraining Order (FRO). At this hearing, you'll be given the chance to tell your side of the story before the judge makes a ruling. Having a good attorney with you in court can make a huge difference in the outcome.
If you've been hit with an unnecessary restraining order—along with possible charges of assault or harassment—you are not powerless to defend yourself. Hire a New Jersey criminal defense attorney with a strong track record of success. Contact Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 today to discuss your options.