When relationships go bad, actions can cross the line into illegal territory. If you're charged with stalking another person, you'll be exposed to serious legal ramifications. In New Jersey, a stalking conviction warrants costly lines, jail time, and even restrictions on your everyday life. It's important you understand the gravity of this crime and the penalties associated with it.
What Constitutes Stalking in New Jersey?
According To New Jersey statute N.J.S.A 2C:12-10, stalking is defined as a “course of conduct” that involves repeatedly (two or more occasions) conveying or causing to be conveyed threats through verbal communication, written communication, or any other means of communication. Stalking is a pattern of behavior that can be constituted in several ways.
Simply put, if a reasonable person would find the continuous actions committed by a defendant to be malicious and threatening, the law counts this as stalking. In these cases, the relationship and prior history between an accuser and defendant are particularly important when determining if this crime has been constituted. For example, the courts will take into account if both parties had previously dated and the relationship went awry with violence or threats, or if there was a history of such behavior to make a decision.
It is important to note that stalking can extend beyond the conventional act of stalking behind someone on foot or following them in a vehicle. In today's technologically advanced society, the internet has given stalkers a plethora of unconventional and crafty ways to stalk victims. Here are a number of circumstances and actions that could lead to a defendant being accused of stalking:
- Damaging the accuser's property
- Keeping track of the accuser's schedule and showing up where they are at
- Posting about the accuser on social media
- Calling, texting, or emailing the accuser repeatedly after they have told you not to
- Creating a website or blog to talk to or about the accuser
A stalking charge may be elevated if it is proven that a defendant directed threats at the accuser that could “cause a reasonable person to fear bodily injury to himself or a member of his immediate family, or to feat the death of himself or a member of his immediate family.
This criminal offense becomes even more serious if a court order has been violated.
Under New Jersey Law, demonstrations, group protests, and picketing are exceptions to the rule and do not constitute stalking.
Stalking Penalties in New Jersey
A traditional stalking conviction is generally a fourth-degree offense in New Jersey, which is punishable by up to 18 months in prison and a fine of $10,000.
Stalking is a third-degree offense if there was an existing restraining order or if the defendant was in jail or on parole for an indictable offense. A person found guilty of a third-degree offense faces 3 to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.
Protective Orders in New Jersey
Another consequence of being convicted of stalking and related crimes in New Jersey is a protective order. Prosecution triggers an automatic application on behalf of an accuser for a permanent restraining order against a defendant.
A hearing is held almost immediately after a defendant has been found guilty. At this hearing, the conditions of a permanent restraining order are determined. An order may prevent a defendant from entering the residence, property, school or place of employment of a victim, even if these are places both parties occupy. A protective order may also restrain a defendant from making any contact with the victim and their peers, including through written, verbal, and electronic means.
Violating a permanent restraining order subsequent a stalking conviction is a fourth-degree offense.
Potential Legal Defenses For Stalking Charges
An indictment for stalking is dependent on a number of factors. The Lento Law Firm understands the elements of a case that must be proven to prosecute a defendant of stalking and is knowledgeable enough of the potential defenses that could ultimately disprove them. When applicable in a case, a defense can be so convincing that it causes a person's sentence to be reduced or even leads to a case being dismissed. A couple of defenses that could be used in a stalking case include:
The alleged victim's fear wasn't reasonable. The history between the parties, in this case, becomes relevant in this defense. If an attorney can prove that there isn't a reason for an alleged victim to believe that they could be harmed - like no previously reported actions or threats - then a stalking conviction isn't probable.
The defendant didn't intend to induce fear. Perhaps the defendant had no idea that their actions were being perceived as malicious or threatening. If an attorney can prove that a reasonable person wouldn't find the actions of the defendant threatening, this charge could be downgraded to harassment or a disorderly person offense, if not dismissed.
New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorney
As you can see, stalking charges are taken seriously in the state of New Jersey. A conviction of this crime can land you behind bars, and severely restrict your lifestyle once your time has been served. Not to mention the damage a conviction can have on your professional and personal life. To avoid a conviction and the legal and collateral ramifications that comes with one, you need the help of a seasoned criminal defense attorney.
If you're looking for quality legal representation, the Lento Law Firm is the ideal firm for you. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has the experience and credentials to defend and counsel people who've acquired stalking charges. He will explain your pending charges, build a solid defense and work towards getting your charges reduced or dropped. For more information about Mr. Lento's representation, contact the Lento Law Firm either online or by phone at 888-535-3686.