An accusation of stalking may not only lead to a restraining order—it may land you in prison. Although a criminal conviction is not necessary for a court to impose a restraining order for alleged stalking in New Jersey, if convicted in criminal court, it will be all but assured that a restraining order will in be part of the fallout that will come of a criminal conviction. While a restraining order may be a de facto condition of your sentencing, it may be just one of many serious sanctions against you.
As someone facing criminal charges and/or a restraining order for stalking, you should:
- Know how New Jersey defines stalking
- Know the criminal consequences for a stalking conviction
- Know what a restraining order is
- Fight against both criminal allegations and a restraining order
- Retain a skilled lawyer to help you
Joseph D. Lento specializes in both criminal law and restraining order cases. Let Attorney Lento and his team fight for your interests and freedom.
What Qualifies as Stalking in New Jersey?
As N.J.S.A. 2C:12-10 explains, a stalker is someone who “purposefully or knowingly engages in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear for his safety or the safety of a third person or suffer other emotional distress.”
A conviction for stalking can be:
- A fourth-degree offense, if the conviction is the defendant's first
- A third-degree offense, if the stalking violates an existing restraining order, is a second or subsequent stalking conviction, or occurs while the defendant is imprisoned, on probation, or paroled
There is certainly a grey area when it comes to stalking. What an accused stalker considers harmless behavior may appear as stalking to the alleged victim. Accused parties need a strong legal defense to ensure an accusation of stalking does not lead to more serious consequences.
Can Someone File a Restraining Order Against You Based on a Mere Accusation of Stalking?
Judges in New Jersey do not need a stalking conviction to grant a restraining order against an alleged stalker. As N.J.S.A. 2C:12-10.2 notes, "A conviction of stalking shall not be a prerequisite for the grant of a temporary restraining order under this act." In other words, a court may grant a temporary restraining order (TRO) even if you have not been convicted of stalking in criminal court.
While these are not pure stalking cases, New Jersey courts may issue a temporary restraining order in cases where:
- Circumstances justify an extreme protection order to prevent harm to the defendant or others (N.J.S.A. 2C:58-23)
- The alleged stalking relates to alleged domestic violence
- The alleged stalking relates to an instance of alleged sexual violence (N.J.S.A. 2C:14-14)
If an accuser is over 18 and fully aware, a criminal conviction is not necessary to obtain a restraining order.
What Does the State Need To Prove To Convict You of Stalking?
A conviction for stalking requires the state of New Jersey to prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The state will need to establish specific elements of a stalking allegation, including:
- That you engaged in stalking behavior repeatedly, which means more than once
- That you knowingly engaged in conduct that qualifies as stalking
- That you intended to cause emotional distress to the alleged victim
- That the alleged victim had a legitimate reason to fear for their safety
This is a high standard of proof, but one the State may meet if you lack a proper defense. Skilled attorney Joseph D. Lento will defend you against an allegation of stalking.
What Are Possible Sanctions for a Stalking Conviction?
If your stalking charge qualifies as a third-degree offense, then you may be facing:
- A sentence of between three and five years in prison
If your charge is a fourth-degree offense, then your sentence for a conviction may include:
- Up to 18 months imprisonment
In addition to criminal sanctions, a conviction for stalking may compromise your current and future employment, diminish your earning power, disqualify you for housing and financing, and make your life significantly more difficult.
A final restraining order is another all but assured possible consequence of a stalking conviction.
Will You Face a Restraining Order After a Stalking Conviction?
If convicted of stalking, you will automatically become the subject of a restraining order. Per N.J.S.A. 2C:12-10.1, “A judgment of conviction for stalking shall operate as an application for a permanent restraining order….”
Unless the victim requests a different date, the New Jersey Superior Court will adjudicate the application for a permanent restraining order “at the time of the verdict or plea of guilty.” This suggests that the imposition of a restraining order may be a de facto element of your sentencing.
The merging of your criminal sentencing and restraining order hearing reinforces this fact: You need an effective criminal defense. Once you have been convicted of stalking, there is a high likelihood that the court will impose a final restraining order against you.
What Does a Restraining Order for Stalking Do?
Per N.J.S.A. 2C:12-10.1, a permanent restraining order for stalking may:
- Bar the defendant from the victim's residence, place of employment, school, and other locations explicitly named in the order
- Forbid the defendant from contacting the victim in any way, including through third parties
The judge overseeing a stalking case may impose other conditions within a restraining order. Violating the conditions of a restraining order may result in criminal charges.
Can You Appeal a Restraining Order?
You may need to appeal the criminal conviction for stalking to contest a final restraining order. Though you generally have 45 days to appeal a final restraining order in New Jersey, appealing a restraining order while you still face criminal sanctions may be fruitless.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento will explain your options for appeal if your case reaches that point. He will first defend you from charges of stalking. A successful defense could make the issue of a restraining order irrelevant.
Hire a Skilled Attorney to Fight an Allegation of Stalking
When it comes to alleged stalking, you should certainly consider the potential impact of a restraining order. However, pending criminal charges may be your greatest concern.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento is a highly experienced criminal defense lawyer who also handles restraining order issues day in and day out throughout New Jersey. Attorney Lento and his team know how to defend those accused of stalking. If necessary, they will appeal a conviction and restraining order levied against you.
Stalking is a serious allegation. Retain a serious legal team to defend you. Call Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm, today at 888-535-3686 to discuss your case.