The state of New Jersey issues restraining orders to protect victims of abuse and domestic violence from their abusers. Restraining orders are vital for keeping people safe and are legally enforceable.
On the one hand, restraining orders protect victims and potential victims of domestic violence. On the other hand, they can also place severe restrictions on the accused (the defendant). A defendant could be forced to leave their home, stop showing up at their workplace, stop seeing their children, or pay housing and child support expenses.
For members of the United States Armed Forces who are stationed at military bases such as Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (JB MDL), a restraining order can complicate things even further. What do military and civilian personnel at JB MDL need to know about restraining orders in New Jersey?
Restraining Orders in New Jersey
In New Jersey, when someone fears for their safety or feels threatened by another person, they can get a restraining order against that person under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. If you have a restraining order filed against you, you must understand the new limitations you're under and how they affect your daily life at JB MDL.
If someone files for a restraining order against you, you may not contact that person or come within a certain distance of them for a specified duration of time. It's also common for restraining orders in New Jersey to limit your interactions with the plaintiff's family, friends, and acquaintances. You may not share any spaces with the plaintiff, meaning you could be required to move out of your home if the two of you share a residence. If you both work at the same place, you won't be able to go to work either. Restraining orders can also do the following:
- Grant temporary custody of children
- Require financial support such as mortgages, rent, or other expenses from the defendant
- Prohibit the defendant from owning or possessing a firearm
- Mandate counseling or therapy
Punishmentfor violating a restraining order
If you break the restrictions of a restraining order, the plaintiff can contact the police, and you can be charged with criminal contempt. A restraining order is not a criminal matter by itself, but violating the provisions of a restraining order will get you criminal charges. Criminal contempt is a felony of the fourth degree in New Jersey, punishable with a fine of up to $10,000 and up to 18 months in state prison.
The two types of restraining orders in New Jersey
In New Jersey, there are two types of restraining orders—temporary restraining order (TRO) and final restraining order (FRO).
A TRO provides temporary protection to a plaintiff from violence by their abuser. When law enforcement serves the defendant with a TRO, they will also provide a date for a final hearing. The final hearing takes place 10 days after the police serve the TRO. Note that if you are a Service member, you will not have an attorney from the Air Force Area Defense Counsel, Army Trial Defense Services, or Naval Defense Service. You will have to hire a civilian defense attorney if you wish to have legal representation concerning the TRO against you. When the TRO expires, a judge will either dismiss it, extend it, or order an FRO to replace it.
An FRO is a permanent restraining order that can last indefinitely. For a judge to issue a FRO, there must be evidence of a domestic relationship between the plaintiff and defendant, an act of domestic violence committed by the defendant, and an urgent need for restraint to prevent further acts of domestic violence. When a defendant is served an FRO, the state will fingerprint and photograph the defendant, and their name goes into a domestic violence registry. The defendant also must pay a fine of $500 and no longer has the right to own or possess a firearm.
Incidents involved in a TRO or an FRO can impact daily life for military and civilian personnel at JB MDL. They could interfere with your ability to do your job, to live on the base, and to carry a firearm.
It's also important to note that the standard of proof for issuing a TRO or FRO is lower than conviction of a crime. If you are charged with a domestic violence crime such as assault and found not guilty, you may still be issued a restraining order.
Can Base Officials See Your Restraining Order?
Restraining orders don't show up on criminal background checks because they aren't criminal matters. However, your name will go into New Jersey's Domestic Violence Central Registry. This registry is open to the public, so your base officials at JB MDL will be able to look you up and see your name in the registry. If you had a TRO and it expired, and you were never served a FRO, your name will still appear in the Domestic Violence Central Registry. Also, keep in mind that restraining order hearings are open to the public.
Can a Restraining Order for Domestic Violence Make You Ineligible to Carry a Firearm?
In New Jersey, restraining orders can prevent you from owning or possessing a firearm, even on a military base like JB MDL. Under the Federal Gun Control Act of 1968, you cannot possess a firearm or ammunition if you have a restraining order against you, and at the hearing, the court found:
- You are a credible threat to the physical safety of your intimate partner or child.
- The order specifically prohibits the attempt or threatened use of force that could cause bodily injury against an intimate partner or child.
- The order prohibits you from stalking, harassing, threatening, or engaging in conduct that would place an intimate partner or child in reasonable fear of bodily harm.
While the Federal Gun Control Act does have an exception for military personnel, that exception only applies to your military duties. You may possess a firearm or ammunition for your official duties, but you may not possess them at any other time.
However, if you're in one of the following situations, the Federal Gun Control Act exceptions for military personnel do not apply:
- The restraining order specifically states that you cannot own or possess a firearm.
- Your commanding officer decides that you should not possess a firearm or ammunition.
If you violate your commander's orders not to possess a firearm, you may face punishment under Article 15 or court-martial. Punitive actions under Article 15 are not convictions but may include demotion in rank, loss of pay, or extra duties. A finding of guilt at a court-martial is a federal criminal conviction and carries a larger range of punishments.
Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban
An amendment to the Federal Gun Control Act of 1968, known as the Lautenberg Amendment, makes it a felony for anyone convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence to ship, transport, possess, or receive firearms or ammunition. The amendment does not make exceptions for military personnel engaged in official duties, although Service members can be armed when deployed if their commander deems it necessary.
It is also a felony to issue or sell a firearm or ammunition to a person with a domestic violence conviction. This law applies to commanders and non-commissioned officers who know or have reason to believe a service member has qualifying convictions.
Restraining orders could be grounds for an administrative discharge, as is a criminal conviction for violating a restraining order (criminal contempt). If you are convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence and not discharged, it could shorten your service and affect your ability to re-enlist.
A restraining order is not a domestic violence conviction; it is a civil matter. Given that restraining orders in New Jersey are a form of protection from abuse, domestic violence is often involved in restraining orders, however.
If you cannot possess a firearm, it may lead to negative consequences concerning your position as military or civilian personnel at JB MDL. You could lose your employment, face mandatory retraining, or possibly discharge.
Does a Restraining Order Affect Your Security Clearance?
As a restraining order is a civil matter, it's impossible to say whether your security clearance will or won't be granted with a restraining order in place. On form SF-86, you will have to report all temporary and final restraining orders in section 22.3. In section 28 of the form, you'll have to mention whether you were a party to a restraining order as well, even if you were the plaintiff.
If the restraining order against you is no longer active and the issue has been resolved, it's more likely that your security clearance will go through—but it's not certain. If you had a restraining order filed against you in the past year and it's tied to credible allegations of domestic violations, it's more likely that you will be rejected. The context surrounding your situation will factor into your approval or rejection for security clearance, and the context differs for each individual.
Will a Restraining Order Get You Kicked Out of Military Housing?
If someone you reside with in military housing on JB MDL gets a restraining order against you, you will have to leave your housing. Restraining orders ban all contact with the plaintiff, even if you live with them. Civil restraining orders are enforceable on military bases that fall in the issuing court's jurisdiction. Therefore, a restraining order could force you to move out of your military housing at JB MDL.
Military Protective Orders vs. Civil Protective Orders
Service members are subject to both civil restraining orders and military restraining orders. The military has punitive authority to deal with domestic violence by issuing a DD Form 2873, Military Protective Order (MPO). A military protective order serves the same functions as a civil restraining order, and it can be issued in conjunction with a protection order from a civil court. Military protective orders can last days, months, or years.
There are some key differences between a military protective order and a civil restraining order:
- Civil restraining orders can apply to military bases, depending on jurisdiction, which varies from base to base.
- Defendants of a civil restraining order get due process and a chance to appear at a hearing to defend themselves.
- Subjects of military protective orders do not get due process.
Anyone with access to a military base, including civilian employees, may ask for a military protective order against a Service member by informing their commanding officer. That Service member will have to stop contacting the subject of the protective order, and the commanding officer could restrict the Service member's access to firearms. The Servicemember may also be ordered to move out of military quarters.
Violating a no-contact or military protective order is a failure to obey an order and could lead to a letter of reprimand, Article 15 (non-judicial punishment), or court-martial.
Non-Judicial Punishment and Civil Restraining Orders in New Jersey
The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) allows the United States Armed Forces to issue forms of military justice known as non-judicial punishment (NJP). NJP is also referred to as “Article 15,” “Captain's Mast,” or “Office Hours” in some branches of the military.
The purpose of NJP is to punish Service members for minor offenses that would be detrimental to the military unit's performance. Common NJP offenses include:
- Reporting late for duty
- Destroying government property
- Disobeying standing orders
- Sleeping on watch
- Falsifying information
When a Service member is facing NJP, their commanding officer handles the case entirely, acting as finder of fact and imposing punishment. The possible punishments for NJP include:
- Confinement on diminished rations
- Certain restrictions
- Arrest in quarters
- Correctional custody
- Extra duties
- Forfeiture of pay
- Detention of pay
- Reduction in grade
Service members facing an Article 15 can refuse to accept it and demand a trial by court-martial. If you accept NJP, however, you still have a chance to tell your side of the story to your commander, who will decide if you are guilty or not. To defend yourself, you'll be able to present witnesses and evidence and appoint a spokesperson to speak on your behalf.
Will a civil restraining order result in non-judicial punishment?
If you are a Service member who gets a civil restraining order filed against them, it will be up to your commanding officer if you face NJP as a result. It's more likely that you'll get an Article 15 if you get a military protective order, or if you violate the restraining order, but again, it's up to your commanding officer.
Can you get a military discharge for a civil restraining order?
A civil restraining order will probably not result in discharge from the military. If your civil restraining order prevents you from possessing a firearm or ammunition, however, it could have negative consequences on your military career. You may be unable to fulfill your military duties. In New Jersey, it's typical for restraining orders to prohibit possession of a firearm. If you are a Service member and find out that you have a restraining order against you, you have a lot at stake. You should seek legal counsel right away to resolve the matter.
Domestic Violence in the Military
Recent updates to the UCMJ make domestic violence a specific offense punishable by:
- Forfeiture of pay
- Restraining order
- Reduction of rank
- Dishonorable discharge
UCMJ Article 128 states that any Service member that commits a violent offense against a spouse, intimate partner, or immediate family member with the intent to threaten, intimidate, or commit a violent offense against that person has committed assault and will be court-martialed. The UCMJ definition of domestic violence is not limited to physical abuse. It also covers threats or intimidation, including psychological and emotional conduct.
Civilian authorities may also charge Service members with domestic violence and assault and can convict them separately from military authorities. It's important to note that civilians and military personnel can ask for either a restraining order against a Service member even if they have not committed a domestic violence offense such as assault.
Do You Have to Report a Restraining Order to Your Commander?
If you get a civil restraining order against you, it's expected that you will let your commanding officer know. Your TRO or FRO may prohibit you from handling a firearm, in which case you will have to inform your commander or risk violating your restraining order. It's also possible that someone you are living with on-base filed a restraining order against you, forcing you to leave your military housing. In most instances, you will have to notify your commanding officer about your restraining order if you want to refrain from violating it.
Defense Attorney for Restraining Orders in New Jersey
Dealing with a restraining order filed against you is not only stressful, but also emotionally and psychologically taxing. As a member of the Armed Forces, having a restraining order could derail your military career. To defend yourself from the negative consequences of a restraining order, contact a qualified defense and family law attorney.
Joseph D. Lento has unparalleled experience representing service member clients in the New Jersey courts and can help you defend yourself from your restraining order. Call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 for a consultation with attorney Lento about your rights.