There aren't many crimes out there that carry the stigma that a stalking charge does. It is the type of conviction that most would like to completely avoid if at all possible. If you are facing an accusation of stalking, then it is imperative to speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney right away.
What is Stalking?
Most people think stalking is simply following someone around or repeatedly making unwanted advances. While this is generally true, there are several other types of behavior that can result in a criminal stalking charge in New Jersey. Stalking is generally defined as purposely or knowingly acting in a “course of conduct” towards a specific person that would cause a “reasonable person” to fear for their safety or the safety of someone else or cause significant emotional distress.
The “course of conduct” portion of the law is what makes stalking a unique charge. An individual's course of conduct can include:
- Repeated attempts to keep a person within sight or physically close;
- Making any action to follow, monitor, observe, threaten, or communicate with a person;
- Interfering with the property of a person; or
- Repeatedly committing harassment against a person.
A “reasonable person” does not have to be the person that is alleged to be the victim. A reasonable person refers to a hypothetical person that is in the same position that the alleged victim is in, and how that person would reasonably be affected. “Repeated” conduct simply means that it has happened on two or more occasions.
What are New Jersey Laws There Against Stalking?
Depending on the alleged actions of the individual charged, an individual can face stalking charges under New Jersey Statutes. The New Jersey Stalking statute is one main section with two subsections, they are:
- New Jersey Statutes 2C:12-10: This is the main stalking statute that describes how the crime of stalking is committed, and under what circumstances a stalking charge can be enhanced.
- New Jersey Statutes 2C:12-10.1: This subsection describes how a stalking conviction serves as an application for a permanent restraining order.
- New Jersey Statutes 2C:12-10.2: This subsection describes how a stalking charge against a child under 18 or an adult with a mental defect can result in a temporary restraining order.
It is important to note that group protests, picketing, or demonstrations are not considered stalking under New Jersey law, and are specifically excluded from the statute.
What are the Potential Punishments for Stalking in New Jersey?
In New Jersey, criminal felony charges are broken into four degrees of severity (first-degree, second-degree, third-degree, and fourth-degree offenses), and misdemeanor charges are charged as disorderly persons offenses. First-degree offenses are considered the most serious, but stalking charges cannot be charged as a first-degree offense nor second-degree offense. A stalking offense can be charged as a:
- Third-degree offense: Stalking is a third-degree offense when the alleged stalker:
- commits the crime of stalking in violation of an existing court order,
- commits the crime of stalking against the same victim two or more times, or
- commits the crime of stalking while on parole or probation for any indictable offense.
- NOTE: There is no presumption of incarceration like there is for first- and second-degree offenses, but you can still face 3-5 years in prison if you are convicted. Third-degree offenses also carry potential fines that can be as high as $15,000.
- Fourth-degree offense: Stalking is generally a crime of the fourth degree in New Jersey. There is no presumption of incarceration like there is for first- and second-degree offenses. You can still face up to 18 months in prison if you are convicted. Fourth-degree offenses also carry potential fines that can be as high as $10,000.
Collateral Consequences of a Stalking Conviction
Along with the punishment that a judge can order to an individual convicted of stalking, a conviction for stalking can have many lasting effects. Having a felony conviction for stalking can prevent you from getting jobs, an apartment, and even government financing. In New Jersey, you also are not allowed to vote in any election until all of your felony conditions are completed. You may also face immigration consequences and may be precluded from enlisting in the United States Military.
One major collateral consequence that is unique to stalking charges and convictions is that of a restraining order. In New Jersey, a restraining order of some kind will typically accompany a stalking charge and/or conviction. If a restraining order is granted, then any contact or attempted contact with the individual protected by the order can result in new criminal charges, as mentioned above.
What Kinds of Restraining Orders Exist in New Jersey?
In New Jersey, there are two types of restraining orders. Temporary Restraining Orders (TROs) and Final Restraining Orders (FROs). A TRO is an initial restraining order that is issued due to a complaint made to the court or police of harassment or violence. Once a TRO is issued, the court will typically set a hearing to determine if a FRO should be issued within 10 days. If the court determines that a FRO is justified, then one will be issued against the defendant. It is important to know that a FRO does not expire and will stay in place unless it is dissolved by the court.
How a Stalking Conviction Can Result in a Permanent Restraining Order
Under New Jersey law 2C:12-10.1, a stalking conviction will serve as an application for a permanent or final restraining order (FRO). At the time of a jury or judicial verdict, or guilty plea, a hearing shall be held by the Superior Court judge to determine if a permanent restraining order should be issued against the defendant regarding the victim in the case. This order will be final and cannot be removed unless it is dissolved by a Superior Court judge. The law allows the stalking victim to request the court to dissolve the permanent restraining order if he or she desires in the future.
How a Stalking Allegation Can Result in a Temporary Restraining Order
Under New Jersey law 2C:12-10.2, an allegation of stalking involving a child under 18 or an individual with a mental disability above the age of 18 can result in the court issuing a TRO. If a TRO is granted, a hearing shall be held within 10 days to determine if the TRO should be converted into a FRO. The court can choose to continue a FRO until the defendant's case is decided.
What are the Potential Defenses to a Stalking Charge?
To secure a conviction, a prosecutor must prove that an individual conducted a repeated course of conduct that conforms to the broad stalking definition in the statute and that his or her conduct would cause fear or significant emotional distress to a reasonable person. What if your conduct is being misconstrued by the prosecutor and the alleged victim? The New Jersey statute is full of loose terms discussing an individual's “proximity” or how a message is “caused” to be conveyed to the alleged victim. If your conduct does not amount to harassment or another defined term in the statute, then you may be able to avoid a stalking conviction.
How an Attorney Can Help with a Stalking Charge
An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you in many ways if you are charged with a crime like stalking. Firstly, an experienced attorney can help assess your case and determine what potential legal defenses you may have. Next, an attorney can conduct an independent investigation to help get a full picture of the story behind the accusations. If law enforcement obtained evidence in violation of the law or your constitutional rights, then your attorney can bring this to the judge's attention to potentially have the evidence suppressed from your case. If you are wrongfully accused, then an experienced defense attorney can help develop your defense strategy to help put you in the best position for success. It is important to understand all of the alleged and actual facts and circumstances of your case so you can make a confident and sound decision on how to move forward. If you have legal questions, then the attorneys at the Lento Law Firm are standing by to help!
Contact the Lento Law Firm Today
If you are facing a criminal charge related to stalking in New Jersey, then it is important to speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney. Stalking charges are not treated lightly by prosecutors and judges. Understanding the parameters of your stalking charge is critical to formulating the appropriate defense strategy. The attorneys at the Lento Law Firm have the experience and knowledge that you need to help you find success defending your charge. To learn why attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm is the right choice to help you fight your stalking charge, call us at 888-535-3686 or contact us online.