Stalking Criminal Defense in Ocean County

Stalking criminal charges are a massive risk to Ocean County residents accused of wrongdoing. When it comes to nonviolent crimes, stalking is near the top of the list for offenses that inflict serious damage to someone's reputation and personal life. Upon a conviction, stalking charges can also put the accused behind bars for years and forever change their life.

Updates to New Jersey's stalking laws in early 2024 have opened the floodgates and increased the risk of false accusations. Now, those accused may have a more challenging time fighting against restraining orders before they go into effect. Victims deserve protection, but society cannot forget about the rights of the accused.

If you are facing criminal stalking charges or dealing with a potential restraining order in Ocean County, you need to fight these accusations head-on. The Lento Law Firm represents New Jersey residents throughout the state who need help defending against stalking allegations. Call our Criminal Defense Team today at 888-535-3686 or contact us through our website.

Stalking in Ocean County

Like every county in New Jersey, Ocean County relies on a statewide definition of stalking to prosecute alleged stalkers. Stalking, as defined under New Jersey law, is an instance where someone engages in a course of conduct directed at a specific person, causing them to fear for their safety or suffer emotional distress. This definition includes multiple interconnected parts, and prosecutors must prove each portion in court. The primary aspects of stalking are:

  • Purposefully or Knowingly: It isn't possible for someone to be guilty of stalking in New Jersey if they acted without intent or purpose. This means that accidental behaviors, such as coincidentally ending up at the same location as another person, are not included in the state's criminal definition. The prosecution must demonstrate that the defendant clearly intended to direct their actions towards the alleged victim.
  • Course of Conduct: New Jersey law allows for a wide variety of acts to be classified as stalking, given they occur as part of a pattern of behavior. These actions include following someone, maintaining physical proximity, conveying threats, or using various methods to monitor or communicate with the person. In today's digital age, stalking can also occur online through social media platforms and websites that collect sensitive information.
  • Emotional Distress: Stalking definitions look past behaviors alone and consider the emotional impact on the victim. Stalking must result in emotional distress, defined by New Jersey law as mental suffering or distress to a victim. Notably, the behavior must cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety or someone else's safety. If a victim did not initially feel threatened by specific actions, a potential defense would be to highlight their delayed claims of emotional distress.
  • Repeatedly: Stalking must involve repeated acts, meaning that a single incident, no matter how severe, does not constitute stalking by itself. The prosecution must show a continuous pattern of behavior that instills fear or distress in the victim to secure a conviction. However, each action does not need to be repeated, and it can occur only once if it is part of a pattern of behavior. For instance, following someone in real life one singular time may still be classified as stalking if online monitoring and surveillance precede it.

False Accusations

Despite the relatively high bar that prosecutors need to meet, false accusations of stalking can have devastating consequences on your personal and professional life. Even before a trial or conviction, these accusations can cause reputational damage and disrupt your daily life. Due to new changes to the state's stalking laws, the potential for false accusations is higher than ever.

Stalking accusations are often used maliciously to gain the upper hand in contentious disagreements and stressful family situations. For instance, amid a divorce or custody dispute, one party may falsely accuse the other of stalking to gain leverage and favor with a judge. But regardless of the reason someone is levying false accusations, the Lento Law Firm can protect your name and help prevent the problem from escalating further.

Recent Updates to Ocean County Stalking Laws

In 2023, New Jersey's legislature voted on changes to the Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act of 2015, with the updates effective starting in 2024. The key changes compared to the older version of the law include:

  • Renaming of the Act: The law was renamed to reflect its broadened scope and is now known as the Victim's Assistance and Survivor Protection Act.
  • Expanded Grounds for Restraining Orders: The updated law makes stalking and cyber harassment valid grounds for obtaining restraining orders.
  • Closing of the 'Stranger Stalking' Loophole: The new law removes a previous loophole requiring an established relationship or familiarity between stalker and victim. Victims can now seek restraining orders regardless of their prior familiarity with the accused.

Some of these changes seem minor, but they can end up having a significant effect on your stalking case or restraining order. For example, plaintiffs filing a restraining order may now successfully receive protection from someone they have never met or interacted with in real life. Without the need to establish a prior relationship, more and more innocent people are likely to be issued a restraining order out of their control.

When laws change, the importance of experienced and knowledgeable legal representation skyrockets. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team has stayed up to date with all legislative and legal updates in New Jersey, and we are prepared to help those struggling due to new accusations.

Stalking Penalties in Ocean County

Depending on the circumstances, stalking offenses in Ocean County are a crime of the fourth degree or a crime of the third degree. While this does mean that criminal penalties are not as harsh as some other crimes, they still introduce massive risk and uncertainty to anyone convicted. Criminal convictions can result in restraining orders, though victims can also file for restraining orders outside of the criminal justice system.

For routine fourth-degree stalking charges, the penalties include:

  • Up to 18 months in prison
  • Fines up to $10,000
  • A criminal record
  • Probation

However, stalking charges can be elevated to a third-degree crime with increased penalties. Prosecutors can push for third-degree convictions if the defendant is accused of:

  • Stalking someone despite an existing court order
  • Committing additional acts of stalking against the same victim after previous offenses
  • Stalking someone while serving a term of imprisonment, on parole, or probation

Potential prison time for third-degree convictions rises to between three and five years, with additional fines. Additionally, New Jersey courts will issue a restraining order against those convicted of stalking, regardless of the severity of the charges.

Stalking is a serious offense, and anyone convicted will likely face some amount of prison time. However, New Jersey offers alternative routes for Ocean City residents to help them avoid convictions and stay out of trouble.

New Jersey's Pretrial Intervention Program

The Pretrial Intervention Program (PTI) offers an opportunity for those charged with crimes, including stalking, to avoid criminal convictions and penalties. This leniency isn't automatic, and the program requires enrollees to work with supervisors and demonstrate commitment to improving their behavior. Successfully enrolling and completing the conditions of PTI result in no punishment or criminal record regarding the alleged stalking behavior.

The PTI program typically lasts from six months to three years and includes mandatory drug tests, supervision, and counseling. There is a misconception that only first-time offenders can enroll in PTI. However, anyone who meets the program's eligibility requirements can enroll. The basic eligibility criteria for PTI include:

  • No previous enrollment in PTI or similar programs, either in New Jersey or elsewhere in the county. This includes New Jersey's Veterans Diversion Program.
  • No charges for disorderly persons or petty disorderly persons offenses, except for charges involving domestic violence
  • No charges related to municipal ordinances or other non-criminal offenses

Even though those with a criminal record can potentially enroll in PTI, the Ocean County prosecutor may need to approve their enrollment. In addition, anyone with pending charges that allege domestic violence or violations of restraining orders may not qualify.

Ocean County probation officers supervise PTI clients in their jurisdiction to ensure they follow the rules and fulfill their enrollment requirements. The contact information for Ocean County's Superior Court Probation Division is:

15 Hooper Avenue

Toms River, New Jersey 08754

Phone: 732-504-0700 ext. 64510

If PTI is an option in your case, it can help you avoid the long-term consequences of a stalking conviction and eliminate the need for a lengthy court trial. After discussing your case with the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team, we will determine your eligibility for PTI and inform you if this program is the best option available.

Restraining Orders in Ocean County

New Jersey law provides for two types of restraining orders that courts can issue in cases of stalking: Temporary Restraining Orders (TRO) and Final Restraining Orders (FRO).

A TRO is typically issued quickly to provide immediate protection to potential stalking victims. This type of order is granted based on the victim's initial complaint and does not require a full court hearing. The TRO remains in effect until a hearing can be scheduled, at which time both parties will have the opportunity to present their cases.

If the court finds sufficient evidence to support the victim's claims during this hearing, they will issue an FRO. FROs are more permanent and impose long-term restrictions on the accused, prohibiting contact with the victim. A FRO can also include provisions to protect the victim's family and place of employment.

Victims can file for a restraining order in the county where they reside, temporarily stay, or where the defendant lives. While this does give victims ample opportunity to seek assistance, it can also introduce difficulties to anyone attempting to defend themselves from allegations in a far-off court.

Once a restraining order is issued, it is enforceable throughout New Jersey, regardless of the initial filing county. Additionally, New Jersey recognizes and enforces restraining orders from courts in other states and jurisdictions in the country.

Preventing a restraining order from going into effect means preventing decades of restrictions on your life. The Lento Law Firm can work with you as soon as you are made aware of a TRO to reduce the chances of it becoming a permanent, lifelong restraining order.

Ocean County Court System

New Jersey classifies most severe crimes as indictable offenses, equivalent to felonies in other states. Local county Superior Courts throughout New Jersey handle most, if not all, indictable offense cases in their jurisdiction, and Ocean County is no different. If you are charged with a third-degree or fourth-degree stalking offense, your case will be heard at the Ocean County Superior Court in Toms River:

118 Washington Street

Toms River, NJ 08754

Phone: 732-929-2042

Municipal courts throughout the county manage minor offenses and the initial stages of criminal proceedings, such as arraignments. Some of the municipal courts in Ocean County are in places like Lakewood, Brick Township, and Jackson Township.

Plea Deals

Your stalking case may not necessitate a court trial at the Ocean County Superior Court. Instead of going to trial, prosecutors are usually eager to reach a plea deal with defendants. Accepting a plea deal requires you to plead guilty to a criminal charge, but this offense is often less serious than you would face in court. Even if prosecutors are open to a plea deal, you are always allowed by law to have your day in court before a judge or jury.

Plea deals have advantages and disadvantages to keep in mind. Most importantly, accepting a plea deal means you cannot appeal your case in the future. However, the ideal scenario for plea deals is one where defense attorneys successfully negotiate to reach favorable terms. After a trial, your attorneys cannot influence sentencing much, but plea deals give them greater ability to protect your future.

Experienced Stalking Defense Attorneys in Ocean County

If stalking charges come your way, you must act quickly to protect your future and reputation. Despite the potential for minimal prison time, a conviction for stalking on your criminal record can complicate your life far into the future and limit your opportunities.

Experienced legal representation that knows the local court system is the best tool you have to defend against accusations of stalking in Ocean County. Contact the Lento Law Firm today through our website or call us at 888-535-3686 to get started on your defense.

​​​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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