Stalking Criminal Defense in Mercer County

Being charged with stalking carries serious repercussions. You not only face having a criminal record but damage to your reputation and life. It may affect your relationships, career, and even time with your children.

In 2023, New Jersey revised its stalking laws. The goal of these changes was to better protect victims. As critics have pointed out, the potential downside to these revisions is that the broader definition risks more people, including those who are innocent, being charged and put through the criminal process.

Protecting victims of crime is important, but trapping those who haven't committed a crime and having them potentially face criminal charges doesn't make anyone safer. It does, however, risk hurting people's lives.

If you're facing stalking charges or a restraining order in Mercer County, don't assume that everything will work out. Courts may fail to consider evidence. Investigations may not be thorough.

What you need is someone who will advocate for you and protect your due process rights. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team works with individuals throughout New Jersey to defend them from criminal charges, including stalking. Contact us using this form or by calling us at 888-535-3686.

Stalking in Mercer County

New Jersey's stalking laws are statewide. The state uses a wide-reaching definition of stalking that includes a variety of behaviors and actions.

In New Jersey, stalking occurs when someone:

  • Purposefully or knowingly engages in a course of conduct
  • Directed at a specific person
  • Acts in a way that would cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety or a third person's safety or cause other emotional distress

To be convicted of stalking, all of these elements must be present. The state excludes any activities or actions that occur during organized group picketing.

Purposefully or Knowingly

Stalking doesn't happen by accident. Stalking occurs when someone knows or plans to follow someone. To find someone guilty of stalking, prosecutors must be able to show that the individual knew what they were doing.

Course of Conduct

Many different types of activities and behaviors qualify as stalking in Mercer County and New Jersey. While the traditional view of stalking is of someone following another person down a darkened alley, New Jersey includes both physical and online tracking. Hiring another person or using a device to track someone counts as stalking. It can be communications or threats. It can be interfering with a person's property or harassing a person.

New Jersey's stalking laws include the following behaviors and conduct:

  • Maintaining visual or physical proximity to someone
  • Using third parties or other methods or devices to indirectly
    • Follow
    • Monitor
    • Observe
    • Surveil
    • Threaten
    • Communicate to or about a person
    • Interfere with someone's property
  • Harassing a person
  • Conveying verbal or written threats
  • Through conduct or a combination of conduct and communication, threatening someone, either explicitly or implicitly

Repeatedly

In general, stalking occurs more than once and is a pattern of activity. That doesn't mean that each action occurs multiple times but that, in total, a pattern of following or monitoring someone emerges. This also means that a person accused of stalking knew that they were following a person on multiple occasions.

For example, two people are both at the same coffee shop in Trenton at the same time for several days. A few days later, they run into each other at a bookstore in Princeton and then a grocery store in Pennington. While this is repeated activity, if neither person intended to run into the other, it's not a matter of stalking, even if one person claims emotional distress.

Emotional Distress

Emotional distress means actions or behavior that cause someone significant mental suffering or distress. The term is intended to be vague because people respond differently to stress and threats. The key is that the emotional distress must be reasonable, which means that the average person would understand why one person's actions or behavior causes another person to be afraid or fearful.

If you're charged with stalking, the challenge can be showing that the other person's alleged emotional distress is unreasonable or unrelated to your conduct. It's generally more difficult to disprove emotional distress than physical injuries. You may need to show that the person isn't being truthful about the events or their reaction.

A Flexible Version of the Truth

Unfortunately, some people may exaggerate or lie about behaviors or emotions. Given the damage an allegation of stalking can do to a person's reputation, some people may decide to twist the truth to claim someone is stalking them.

A common example given is child custody, where one parent accuses the other of actions such as stalking or domestic violence to get sole custody. But it could occur for any reason. One graduate student may accuse another of stalking in hopes of derailing their career. A stalking charge may arise from a disagreement between coworkers or neighbors.

Victims of stalking should be protected. The problem is that some people use these laws for their benefit, even if it hurts other people in the process - or causes the accused emotional distress.

When you're accused of stalking, you shouldn't assume that everyone is being truthful. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team helps our clients protect their lives and their futures.

Updates to Stalking Laws in Mercer County

In 2023, the New Jersey legislature approved changes to the state's stalking laws. These revisions went into effect in 2024.

The main parts of the updated laws:

  • Closing the ‘stranger stalking' loophole and making it easier for alleged stalking victims to get a restraining order, even without any existing or previous relationship with the alleged stalker

o New Jersey's previous laws limited restraining orders to the stalker and victim having a previous relationship or when there was a related criminal conviction

  • Renaming the Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act of 2015 the Victim's Assistance and Survivor Protection Act
  • Expanding the grounds for a restraining order to include stalking and cyber harassment

Proponents of these changes believe that they will better protect stalking victims. Others voiced concerns that the updated laws were too broad and would result in more allegations, charges, and convictions of innocent people.

These changes highlight how the law isn't an unchanging behemoth. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team keeps current on any proposed, upcoming, and recent revisions to the law and how those changes will affect our clients.

Mercer County Stalking Penalties

In Mercer County, individuals who are convicted of stalking are convicted of either a crime of the fourth degree or a crime of the third degree. A criminal conviction isn't required for a restraining order, and the two matters may be handled separately.

A conviction of a crime of the fourth degree occurs when a prosecutor shows that someone meets the elements of stalking.

A fourth-degree conviction carries potential penalties up to:

  • $10,000 in fines
  • A charge on your criminal record
  • Probation
  • Up to 18 months in prison

An individual may be convicted of a crime of the third degree when:

  • They stalked someone despite an existing court order
  • They've committed multiple stalking offenses against the same person
  • They stalked someone while serving a term of imprisonment or while on parole or probation in New Jersey or any other state or as a result of a federal conviction

A third-degree conviction carries potential penalties up to:

  • $15,000 in fines
  • A charge on your criminal record
  • Probation
  • Prison time between three and five years

In addition, anyone convicted of stalking in New Jersey will have a permanent or final restraining order (FRO) issued against them.

Pretrial Intervention Program

Some individuals may qualify for the Pretrial Intervention Program (PTI). Those who are eligible for PTI and have completed the conditions won't have a criminal record from the alleged stalking incident.

The PTI program lasts from six months to three years. To successfully complete the program, clients must complete all of the conditions. The program centers on counseling, supervision, and other services intended to prevent future criminal activity.

Individuals don't have to be first-time offenders to qualify for PTI. The basic eligibility criteria:

  • You haven't been previously enrolled in PTI or any similar programs in the U.S., including the Veterans Diversion Program
  • You haven't been charged with a disorderly person or petty disorderly person offense
    • Exception: If the charge involves domestic violence
  • You haven't been charged with a municipal ordinance or other non-criminal offense

Individuals are unlikely to qualify for the program if the allegations against them center on domestic violence and violating a restraining order. Some individuals, including those with previous convictions, may need approval from the Mercer County prosecutor before applying.

County probation officers supervise PTI clients. In Mercer County, the probation office is located in the Mercer County Civil Courthouse.

The court's contact information:

175 South Broad Street

Trenton, New Jersey

Phone: 609-571-4200 ext. 74270

If you're facing stalking allegations and believe you might be eligible for PTI, contact the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team. We can help you determine if PTI is the best option for you.

Restraining Orders

As of 2024, individuals can file for stalking-related restraining orders in New Jersey. They don't have to have a relationship with the alleged stalker to file.

Restraining orders limit a person's ability to communicate or be in physical proximity to a specific person. There are two primary types of restraining orders in New Jersey:

  • Temporary Restraining Orders (TRO)
  • Permanent, or Final, Restraining Orders (FRO)

In certain situations, individuals may also file an emergency request for a restraining order.

TROs are generally issued for a short period of time to protect the alleged victim and give a court time to consider the evidence. A court will issue a FRO when the evidence indicates such an action is warranted or if it is a result of a certain criminal conviction.

Individuals can file for a restraining order in the county where:

  • The defendant lives
  • The plaintiff lives
  • The plaintiff is staying temporarily, including in a shelter

For defendants, this potentially means that a restraining order hearing won't be in their county of residence. While a specific county issues a restraining order, it's active throughout New Jersey and the United States. Similarly, New Jersey recognizes and enforces restraining orders from other states.

This is one reason why it's so important to defend yourself against allegations of stalking or other behavior that may give rise to a restraining order. A restraining order filed against you follows you.

Restraining Orders and the Mercer County Sheriff's Office

Mercer County Sheriff's Offices also has a specialized section for Temporary Restraining Orders (TRO). This section handles the following responsibilities with restraining orders:

  • Serve court-ordered TROs
  • Executive court-order search warrants to look for weapons in a household

That someone has stalking allegations against them doesn't lessen their rights, including against overly expansive or illegal warrants or searches. If you've been accused of stalking or have a restraining order against you, you need someone to protect your rights. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team helps make sure our clients' rights are protected throughout the process.

Mercer County Court System

Like the rest of New Jersey, Mercer County uses the term indictable offenses rather than felonies, and stalking is an indictable offense. The Mercer County Superior Court handles all cases that involve indictable offenses.

Those charged with stalking may have a preliminary hearing at one of the county's twelve municipal court locations. If a case goes to trial, it then moves to the superior court in Trenton. If found guilty, defendants and their legal team can file an appeal with the Appellate Division of Superior Court.

Plea Deals in Mercer County

Individuals may also accept a plea deal instead of a trial. With plea deals, defendants generally agree to a lesser charge, including an agreed-upon penalty. You cannot be forced to accept a plea deal, and everyone has the right to their day in court if they choose.

Plea deals have both advantages and disadvantages. One of the biggest advantages is that your legal team has a say in sentencing, which isn't the case if a trial goes to court and you're found guilty. One of the biggest disadvantages is that once you agree to a plea deal, you can't appeal.

Protect Your Future

Being convicted of stalking could potentially mean years in prison or thousands of dollars in fines. Even a minor penalty can affect your reputation, career prospects, and future.

If you're facing stalking charges or a restraining order, the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team can help. We assist our clients in navigating the criminal process and understanding their options. Contact us using this form or by calling us at 888-535-3686.

​​​Contact The Lento Law Firm Today

When it comes to criminal defense cases, you need the right person in your corner. To learn more about how Mr. Lento can help you, call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686. or contact him online.

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