What is the Basis for a Restraining Order in New Jersey?
Clients often ask what are the grounds for a restraining order to be issued against a defendant in New Jersey. The New Jersey Domestic Violence Act is the NJ law that guides such a decision. Domestic violence in New Jersey is defined as the occurrence of one or more specified acts under the statute; these acts include criminal offenses. Some criminal offenses, often the grounds for restraining orders, will be familiar: harassment, stalking, sexual assault, and homicide for example. Also included in the list of acts that constitute domestic violence in New Jersey are "terroristic threats;" an offense which may not be as familiar, but is often a frequent charge levied against defendants in restraining order actions.
What is a "Terroristic Threat" in New Jersey?
New Jersey law defines "Terroristic Threats" as threatening to commit a crime of violence with the purpose to terrorize another. Terrorist Threats is codified by statute under N.J.S.A. 2C:12-3. The statute goes on to state that a threat made with the purpose of causing an evacuation of a building, place of assembly, or facility of public transportation, or otherwise to cause serious public inconvenience is also a "terroristic threat" under New Jersey law. Lastly, a threat made to kill another person with the intent to put person who receives the threat in imminent fear of death under circumstances to reasonably cause the victim to believe the immediate nature of the threat and the likelihood that it will be carried out is a "terroristic threat" as well.
Often in anger and the heat of the moment, people say things that they do not intend to carry out and later come to regret. Defendants in restraining order actions in New Jersey often find themselves in the situation that they do for this reason; more specifically, because they made what may be considered "terroristic threats" against another party, whether a husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, mother, father, etc.
Two Primary Factors that the Court Will Consider
In New Jersey, a threat of violence, whether written or verbal, that reasonably causes serious fear or terror to the victim will be considered a "terroristic threat," and can be sufficient grounds for a restraining order to be issued against a defendant. An important consideration, however, is that "threats" that are not intended to be carried out may at times be insufficient grounds for a restraining order, whereas serious threats of violence will be most often be sufficient grounds. In making the determination if a threat is in fact a "terroristic threat," and as such, a sufficient basis for a New Jersey restraining order, the court will consider two primary factors: 1) the specific facts of the case to determine if the threat was serious; and 2) whether the response of the recipient of the threat was reasonable - Would a reasonable person in the same circumstances as the recipient of the threat believe the threat was serious and imminent and would the recipient be placed in fear as a result?
New Jersey law defines "terroristic threats" as threats of physical injury or death. Threats made against people other than the recipient, such as family members, loved ones, among others, may also be considered "terroristic threats" in New Jersey. New Jersey law is more expansive yet in that threats may against property of interest to the recipient may also be a "terroristic threat."
Preparing the Best Possible Defense
A defendant in a restraining order action who is accused of terroristic threats has much to be concerned about because of the how greatly a final restraining order can negatively affect a person's life, both at work, school, and with respect to family law issues such as child custody for example. In addition, once a restraining order is issued against a defendant, it can last a lifetime; an additional complication which thereafter arise is the prospect of violating a restraining order and the additional potential consequences involved. Moreover, because of how "easy" it is to make a "terroristic threat" when emotions run high and differences of opinion arise among people, it is critical that the best defense possible be prepared when contesting a New Jersey restraining order.
One possible saving grace to a defendant facing a restraining order is that New Jersey courts have addressed the issue of what constitutes a "terroristic threat" (and what does not). At times, New Jersey case law can support the argument that what may otherwise seem to be a "terroristic threat" may in fact not be a terroristic threat. This is because New Jersey courts have at times ruled in favor of defendants despite the fact that the alleged "threat" appears to be an actual threat. Ultimately, the best possible defense to having a restraining order dismissed in New Jersey will include consideration of how New Jersey case law will interpret the specific "threat" or "threats" made by the defendant and will approach the case accordingly.