Stalking Criminal Defense in New Jersey

Being accused, charged, or convicted of stalking carries serious long-term consequences. It can affect all aspects of a person's life, and changes to New Jersey stalking laws may mean that more innocent people face convictions.

While the common image of stalking is of some shadowy figure lurking around watching someone, technology has made stalking more complex. Someone may now stalk someone without being in the same state.

To respond to these changes, New Jersey expanded its definition of what counts as stalking. Victims no longer even need to know their alleged stalkers to file for a restraining order. While these revisions can be good for victims of stalking, this broader definition increases the risk of innocent people facing charges or convictions of stalking.

Part of the problem with this broader definition is that even an accusation of stalking can seriously damage a person's reputation. Those charged with cyberstalking may not only need to mount a defense but also ensure that everyone involved understands how the technology that's involved works.

Being charged with stalking is stressful. It can permanently affect a person's reputation, and a conviction carries significantly steeper consequences.

If you're facing allegations or criminal charges of stalking, the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team can help you navigate the process. We ensure our clients understand their options, their defenses, and the best path forward for their specific circumstances. Contact us using this form or by calling us at 888-535-3686.

What Is Stalking in New Jersey?

New Jersey defines stalking as:

  • Purposefully or knowingly engaging in a course of conduct
  • That conduct is directed at a specific person
  • The conduct would cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety or a third person's safety or cause other emotional distress.

A stalking conviction means that a prosecutor has proven, beyond a reasonable doubt, that circumstances met all of these elements. For example, a person shouldn't be convicted of stalking if their actions didn't cause emotional distress.

New Jersey also explicitly states that its stalking laws don't occur during organized group picketing.

Purposefully or Knowingly

Purposefully or knowingly means that someone is aware that they're following someone. It's not accidentally following someone's car home from work five days a week because two people work in the same area and get off work around the same time. It's someone who waits five days a week to follow another person home from work.

Reasonable Person

A person's conduct would make the average person fearful. That someone claims another person's behavior was stalking or made them fearful isn't sufficient. Unfortunately, some people may falsely claim someone stalked them or committed other crimes.

The question is: What would the average person think? Would most people be afraid due to someone else's conduct? Or is someone exaggerating a supposed threat?

Course of Conduct

New Jersey uses a broad definition of what activities or behaviors qualify as stalking. It can occur in person or online. It can include hiring a third person or using a device to track someone. It can be communications or threats. It can be interfering with a person's property or harassing a person.

The behaviors and conduct included in New Jersey's stalking laws include:

  • Repeatedly maintaining visual or physical proximity to someone
  • Directly, indirectly, or through third parties via action, method, device, or other means:
    1. Following
    2. Monitoring
    3. Observing
    4. Surveilling
    5. Threatening
    6. Communicating to or about a person
    7. Interfering with someone's property
  • Repeatedly harassing a person
  • Repeatedly conveying verbal or written threats
  • Implicitly threatening someone through conduct or a combination of conduct and communication

Stalking occurs repeatedly or more than one time. This doesn't mean that each behavior occurs multiple times but that the above behaviors, taken together, occur. Someone may repeatedly follow a person. Another may use several different means to make someone feel unsafe or unable to escape.

Repeatedly means a pattern and not just a series of coincidences or vague accusations. Repeatedly also applies to the accused and that they were aware of their conduct.

Emotional Distress

New Jersey defines emotional distress as causing significant mental suffering or distress. If that term seems vague, that's because it's designed to allow for the wide range of emotions and reactions different people may feel when they're being stalked. Some might be fearful, and others angry. One person may no longer have an appetite, while another may always be hungry.

For those charged with stalking, this broad definition may present challenges. For someone facing stalking charges, the challenge can be showing that a person's emotional distress isn't reasonable or isn't related to their conduct. It's also important to keep in mind that some people may exaggerate or lie about behaviors or emotions.

For example, an individual going through a child custody case may claim the other parent is stalking them. They may level this accusation in hopes of getting sole custody or otherwise limiting the other parent's relationship with a child.

Unlike physical injuries, determining the cause of emotional distress can be more difficult. This is one reason why anyone accused or charged with stalking should conduct the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team.

Changes to New Jersey's Stalking Laws

In 2023, the New Jersey legislature passed revised and updated versions of the state's stalking laws. The new laws went into force on Jan. 1, 2024. While these changes are intended to better protect victims of stalking and related crimes, one concern is that the revised laws are overly broad. This means that innocent people are more likely to face criminal charges and/or convictions under these new laws.

The key provisions of the updated laws:

  • Closes the 'stranger stalking' loophole by making it easier for alleged victims of stalking to get a restraining order, even if there wasn't an existing or previous relationship with the alleged stalker
    • Before the new law, New Jersey limited restraining orders to situations in which the stalker and victim had a previous relationship or when there was a previous and related criminal conviction
  • The Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act of 2015 is now the Victim's Assistance and Survivor Protection Act
  • Stalking and cyber harassment are now grounds for a restraining order in New Jersey

As these revisions remind us, the law isn't concrete. It can change at any point. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team keeps up-to-date on any changes or proposed changes to the laws. We help our clients understand how revisions may affect them and how to navigate them.

What Is the Punishment for Stalking in New Jersey?

Individuals are convicted of stalking as 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:

  • Purposefully or knowingly engaging in a course of conduct
  • That conduct is directed at a specific person
  • The conduct would cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety or a third person's safety or cause other emotional distress.

A fourth-degree conviction carries a potential penalty of three to five years 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

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

Stalking and Restraining Orders

Even if not convicted of stalking, you may still face a temporary or permanent restraining order due to allegations of stalking. Individuals don't have to have a previous relationship with a person to petition a court for a restraining order.

A restraining order limits one person's ability to interact and communicate with another person. An individual may be required to stay a certain distance from a person or refrain from communicating with them.

There are two main types of restraining orders:

  • Temporary
  • Permanent

In certain situations, victims may also petition for an emergency order.

Courts will generally issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) before deciding on a permanent or final restraining order (FRO). Someone who has a restraining order issued against them may be required to undergo mental health counseling or anger management courses or satisfy other conditions set by the court.

Restraining Orders and Custody

When one parent takes out a restraining order against the other parent, that restraining order generally won't affect custody unless a child is in danger. What it may affect is drop-offs, pick-ups, and any communication between the parents, all of which may now require third parties. It may also affect a person's ability to support their child at school events or other activities.

Restraining orders alone won't go on a person's criminal record. They may, however, result in a person being charged or convicted of a third-degree crime.

Pretrial Intervention Program

Some individuals charged with stalking may be eligible for the Pretrial Intervention Program (PTI) program. For those who qualify for and complete the program, they won't have a conviction on their criminal record from this incident.

The PTI program focuses on counseling, supervision, and other services to correct behavior and prevent future criminal incidents. Those admitted to PTI must satisfy conditions set by the court within 36 months.

PTI Eligibility

To qualify for PTI, an individual must not:

  • Have been previously enrolled in PTI or any similar programs in other states
  • Have been in a conditional discharge or conditional dismissal program
  • Participated in the Veterans Diversion Program and had charges dismissed
  • Have been charged with a disorderly person or petty disorderly person offense unless the charge involves domestic violence
  • Have been charged with a municipal ordinance or other non-criminal offense

While most individuals who qualify for PTI are first-time offenders, that isn't a requirement for eligibility.

Some individuals need to first obtain the prosecutor's approval before applying. These individuals have:

  • Been charged with a crime that has a jail sentence or a mandatory minimum period of parole ineligibility
  • Have a prior conviction for an indictable offense in New Jersey, another state, or federal court

Individuals are unlikely to be approved for PTI when:

  • They are public employees, and the crime relates to their job
  • They are charged with a crime relating to domestic violence and allegedly committed that crime while they had a restraining order against them

If you've been charged with stalking and believe you might be eligible for PTI, contact the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team. We can help you understand the process, your eligibility, and the best path forward.

Stalking and Technology

Advances in technology have many upsides. Social media makes it easier to keep in touch with people. Bluetooth trackers make it easier to locate luggage or keep track of often misplaced items such as keys or wallets.

Technology has also opened up a new avenue for surveilling and tracking individuals for both good and bad purposes. These technologies may make it difficult to determine what is and isn't stalking.

For example, someone sees the same person regularly at a coffee shop and requests to follow them on a social media platform. Depending on the other details, these incidents may or may not be grounds for an allegation or charge of stalking.

When defendants are charged with stalking due to online activity or other technology, the question becomes if everyone involved understands the technology and how it's used. Failure to understand social media or technology could result in a conviction.

Determining how and when someone could cause reasonable fear when not in close physical proximity can also be difficult. This is why those charged with stalking should contact the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team.

Protect Your Future

Being charged with a crime doesn't mean you're guilty. If you're facing allegations or charges of stalking, you need to protect your reputation and your future. A stalking conviction could affect all aspects of your life, even if you avoid prison time.

If you're facing stalking charges, you need an advocate. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team works with individuals throughout New Jersey to guide them through the criminal process. 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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