Whether you are a plaintiff or defendant in a New Jersey domestic violence case resolved through a temporary restraining order (TRO) or a final restraining order (FRO), your activities online are subject to immense, court-ordered scrutiny. Although most risks concern the defendant named in the order, either party can derail their standing with the court when interacting with the online world, especially through social media.
TROs and FROs remand the defendant from contacting the plaintiff via physical contact, over the phone, and through mailed letters, among others. Since communication is easier than ever with connections supported by the Internet, you must be conscious of how a restraining order affects how you can act online without repercussions.
How Does Social Media Impact a Restraining Order?
According to N.J.S.A. §2C:33-4, harassment is “communication or communications anonymously or at extremely inconvenient hours, or in offensively coarse language, or any other manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm.” Moreover, N.J.S.A. § 2C:33-4.1 purports that cyber harassment is when the defendant or alleged offender is “making a communication in an online capacity via any electronic device or through a social networking site and with the purpose to harass another.” Such alleged instances may include any online activity wherein the defendant or alleged offender “Knowingly sends, posts, comments, requests, suggests, or proposes any lewd, indecent, or obscene material.”
Any instance of alleged harassment or cyber harassment is substantiated based on the preponderance of the evidence. A judge must be more than 50 percent sure the defendant in the manner committed the alleged act. Yet, violations are addressed with the lowest form of jurisprudential scrutiny. Therefore, the risk of extraordinary fines and months and years in jail is real.
It is obvious that posting and interacting with the other party in a restraining order on any of the Internet's social media, communication sites, and applications can sink your case in court. Yet, the dangerous uses of connectivity are not limited to direct contact. Even seemingly vague and indirect rhetoric can plague your results with the judicial system.
Can You Violate a Restraining Order Even If You Don't Engage With the Other Party?
You may believe that if you can defend your public reputation, your chances of getting a restraining order dismissed are higher. Misconceptions like these, however, will land you into deeper trouble at a time when you should proceed with extreme caution.
It is unwise to insinuate anything about the protected party, even if you do not name them in posts or other online entries. Moreover, if you see a post naming you or receive a message from the other party, resist the temptation to respond. Such is true for third parties—friends, family, coworkers—as any attempt to work around the restrictions of a restraining order will violate the terms, which courts in New Jersey punish harshly. Any communication between the parties named on the restraining order must go through their respective attorneys or the New Jersey court system.
Penalties For Online Harassment and Violating Restraining Orders
Even though TROs and FROs are civil orders, any breach of the terms is a criminal act. Any violation of a New Jersey restraining order is an arrestable offense.
N.J.S.A. 2C:29-9 states that violating a restraining order is a fourth-degree felony. If law enforcement officers determine the defendant committed the action through probable causes or reasonable basis, the party will be apprehended for the violation of court orders. If convicted, defendants face up to 18 months in jail and a fine of up to $10,000. Furthermore, penalties are doubled for a second violation and tripled for the third violation of restraining orders. Since online actions only require a few clicks, infractions and their consequences can add up quickly.
Online harassment also carries its own sanctions. In New Jersey, the crime can either be charged in the fourth-degree or third-degree. Fourth-degree crimes are managed via the aforementioned means, but third-degree crimes are supported by fines of up to $35,000 and a term in jail for at least three years but no more than five years. The nature of harassment, such as message or post content and to whom the messages are sent, are considered during the court's determination. Pursuant to N.J.S.A. § 2C:33-4.1, cyber harassment occurs when the alleged perpetrator is at least 21 years old at the time of the offense and impersonates a minor for the purpose of harassment.
Unfortunately, children are sometimes used as tools in cases involving restraining orders. Either party can create or assume the online profile of young family members in order to defend themselves or attempt to push their side of the story further. Whether you are a plaintiff or defendant named in a TRO or FRO, it's imperative to stay calm, control elevated emotions, and refrain from interacting online.
How Can Joseph D. Lento Help?
If you are involved in a domestic violence case, are a party in a TRO or FRO, or allegations of online harassment have emerged, your first step should be to contact an experienced New Jersey attorney to guide you through the process. The fluctuations in state law and the nuances of domestic violence cases demand a knowledgeable attorney backed by a team staffed with experts that have empathy for these poignant matters.
Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm have paramount practice fighting for plaintiffs and defendants in New Jersey and across the country. They understand how to proceed in managing client cases, arguing for fair terms from presiding judges, and ensuring parties don't inadvertently violate subsequent court orders.
Don't let your online presence or social media accounts present a danger to your case, reputation, or future. Act quickly and speak with attorney Joseph D. Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm today by calling 888-535-3686 or visiting the confidential online consultation form.