Under New Jersey law and state policy, police called to an incident of domestic violence must follow certain protocols to determine whether or not to make an arrest. However, they must also provide you with information about your rights and how you can keep yourself safe and protect your family from future acts of violence. In this article, we'll discuss what the New Jersey police must do when they arrive at the scene of a domestic violence incident.
Domestic Violence Crimes
Domestic violence isn't limited to physical assault. Under New Jersey law, crimes that can qualify as domestic violence include:
- Terroristic Threats
- Criminal Restraint
- False Imprisonment
- Sexual Assault
- Sexual Contact
- Criminal Mischief
- Criminal Trespass
Who Is a Domestic Violence Victim?
Under New Jersey law, anyone protected under the New Jersey Prevent of Domestic Violence Act of 1991 can be a victim of domestic violence. Relationships that qualify can include:
- A spouse
- Former spouse
- Member of the household
- Those with a child in common
- Current or former dating partners
See N.J.S.A. § 2C:25-19 (2016).
What Must the Police Do?
Under New Jersey law, the police must arrest your assailant if:
- You have signs of an injury, including physical pain or physical impairment
- The police see signs of an internal injury
- Witnesses tell police that you were punched, hit, or kicked,
- The assailant violated a no-contact or restraining order
- There's an outstanding arrest warrant or bench warrant out for the assailant
- Your assailant used a weapon defined under § 2C:39-1r of New Jersey Statutes. See N.J.S.A. § 2C:39-1r (2020)
The police have the discretion to make an arrest if they have probable cause to believe that an act of domestic violence occurred, even though none of the criteria for a mandatory arrest exist. If the police don't have probable cause, they must inform you that you can sign a criminal complaint against your assailant. If you do, the police will arrest them.
Both Parties Have Injuries
In some cases, both parties may show signs of injuries. If that's the case, the police will determine who to arrest for domestic violence based on:
- The comparative injuries each party has
- Any history of domestic violence between the parties
- Each person's fear of physical harm resulting from the other's threats or use of actual force
- Whether one party acted in self-defense and inflicted injuries to their assailant
- Other relevant factors
The police shouldn't automatically arrest both parties. Rather, they should attempt to determine who was the assailant and who was the victim.
Domestic Violence Charges
There are many criminal charges available to the police, depending on the severity of your injuries and whether your assailant used a weapon. Possible charges include simple or aggravated assault of several degrees. The police can use the reliable and trustworthy statement of a victim as probable cause for this arrest.
The police also can seize any weapons that are contraband, evidence, or used in a crime. They can also seize weapons on the premises or off the premises if they have probable cause to believe an incident of domestic violence occurred.
Other Police Assistance
There are certain things that the police must do to ensure your safety and inform you of your rights, and help you obtain a restraining order if needed.
Victim Rights Form
A law enforcement officer must give you a written notice, in English and Spanish, explaining your remedies, including filing a domestic violence complaint and asking the court for assistance in preventing another incident or filing a criminal complaint.
The police must also notify you if your assailant is released from custody, is scheduled to be in court in a motion to reduce bail, when the defendant or prosecutor submits a plea bargain to the court, the trial date, and any sentencing date. The form should also give you the phone number of the Victim Witness Unit of the prosecutor's office.
Safety Planning Strategies Form
The police should also give you a safety planning form. The police should also discuss developing a safety plan with you because of the danger you may face when ending an abusive relationship.
New Jersey Restraining Orders
New Jersey law offers two types of restraining orders to protect you and your family, both temporary (TRO) and final restraining orders (FRO). A restraining order can protect you from a former or current intimate partner, a co-parent, or a family member. After hours, the police can help you obtain the temporary order through an on-call municipal court judge. You can apply for a restraining order in the Family Part of the Superior Court during the business day. The Family Division accepts domestic violence complaints until 3:30 each business day when the court is in session.
The judge will ask you about The TRO will remain in place until the court can hold a hearing for a final order, usually about ten business days. A FRO can permanently protect you and your family unless you or the other party ask the court to remove or modify the order.
Violating a temporary or final restraining order in New Jersey is a criminal offense and considered criminal contempt of a court order. See N.J.S.A. § 2C:29-9 (2019). If someone violates a restraining order you have against them, they can face arrest and jail. See N.J.S.A. § 2C:25-31 (1994). If they violate the restraining order a second time, it can result in a mandatory 30-day sentence in jail. See N.J.S.A. § 2C:25-30 (1994).
Hire an Experienced New Jersey Family Law Attorney
If you're facing domestic violence issues at home, this isn't something you should have to handle alone. You need an experienced family law attorney well versed in the legal issues facing victims of domestic violence. Attorney Joseph Lento and the skilled team at the Lento Law Firm have been helping New Jersey families through this process for years. Whether you need help with the New Jersey restraining order process or ensuring that you and your family will have the support you need, we can help. Call us at 888-535-3686 or contact us online today.