Domestic violence is unfortunately common in New Jersey, but the state has legal protections in place to help victims. A restraining order can offer protection to someone who has experienced domestic abuse or who feels threatened by a household member. If you are the one who has received a domestic violence restraining order, it can disrupt every aspect of your life. It's important to know what the penalties are for domestic violence and how they affect restraining orders in New Jersey.
What Constitutes Domestic Violence in New Jersey?
In New Jersey, domestic violence is considered a pattern of abuse that may include threats, intimidation, isolation, or financial control. Domestic violence includes certain crimes like homicide or assault, which are considered specifically as domestic violence if they are committed against someone who meets the state's definition of a domestic violence victim.
Under New Jersey law (N.J. Rev. Stat. § 2C: 25-19), a crime can only be considered domestic violence if it is committed by an adult or emancipated minor against someone who is:
- A current or former spouse
- A current or former household member
- The parent (or expectant parent) of a child shared by the perpetrator and victim
- A current or former dating partner
If the perpetrator commits one of the following crimes against someone who fits one of the above categories, it constitutes domestic violence:
- False imprisonment and criminal restraint
- Sexual assault
- Criminal mischief
- Criminal trespassing
- Terroristic threats
What Happens If You're Accused of Domestic Violence?
If someone accuses you of committing an act of domestic violence, it's possible you could be arrested. There are certain conditions that must be met for a law enforcement officer to make an arrest for domestic violence, including:
- Someone claims they have been a victim of domestic violence.
- The officer has sufficient evidence to believe that domestic violence occurred.
In addition to the above two conditions, one or more of the following must also be true for there to be an arrest:
- The alleged victim has signs of injury.
- The suspected perpetrator has an arrest warrant.
- The suspected perpetrator violated a restraining order.
- It's possible that the suspected perpetrator has used a weapon.
The Penalties for Domestic Violence in New Jersey
As domestic violence encompasses several crimes, the charge and penalties for committing domestic violence can vary. Depending on the severity, you could be charged with either:
- Disorderly persons offense (the equivalent of a misdemeanor in New Jersey)
- Indictable offense (the equivalent of a felony in New Jersey)
Domestic Violence Disorderly Persons Offense
Charges for misdemeanor-level domestic violence offenses could be for simple assault, harassment, stalking, or similar actions. The penalties for this crime may include:
- Anger management classes
- Up to six months in jail
- A fine between $50-$500
Domestic Violence Indictable Offense
The charges and penalties for felony-level domestic violence offenses are much harsher than those at the misdemeanor level. Charges could be for aggravated assault, sexual assault, use or possession of a deadly weapon in the context of the alleged offense, or similar actions.
Indictable offenses in New Jersey have four degrees, each carrying a different penalty:
- Fourth-degree: up to 18 months in prison
- Third-degree: between three and five years in prison
- Second-degree: between five and ten years in prison
- First-degree: up to 20 years in prison
You could also be assessed steep fines or face other penalties.
Domestic Violence and Restraining Orders in New Jersey
New Jersey allows anyone who feels they may become a victim of domestic violence to take action to protect themselves. They can file for a restraining order, which is a court order that prohibits an alleged perpetrator of domestic violence from contacting or interacting with the alleged victim.
There are two types of restraining orders in New Jersey:
- Ex parte restraining order: An ex parte order is usually issued temporarily without the defendant present, based on the sworn testimony of the plaintiff.
- Final restraining order: A judge issues a final restraining order after a hearing where both the plaintiff and defendant can present their arguments. A final restraining order typically lasts for one year.
How to Request a Domestic Violence Restraining Order
The process for getting a restraining order may start when someone calls 911 from a household where physical harm has occurred, or there is a threat of physical harm. The police officer who arrives on the scene may recommend getting a restraining order against the alleged perpetrator.
You don't need a police referral to get a restraining order, however. You can also go to the courthouse or a police station and request a restraining order, or you can fill out a form online. The alleged perpetrator also does not need to have an arrest or a conviction to get a restraining order against them. When you file for a restraining order, and the defendant does not have an arrest or conviction, you must be able to prove that the defendant has committed a predicate act of violence such as threats, stalking, harassment, kidnapping, robbery, or burglary.
Penalties for Violating a Restraining Order
If you have been issued a temporary or final restraining order, you must follow all of the provisions of the order for the duration of the order. If you do not, you will be in violation of your restraining order, and the plaintiff can call the police and have you arrested. You could end up being charged with criminal contempt.
Criminal contempt is a fourth-degree felony in New Jersey, which carries up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Do You Need an Attorney for a Domestic Violence Case?
Domestic violence is a very serious matter, whether you are the victim or the accused. If you are dealing with a domestic violence restraining order, an attorney can walk you through the process and help you prepare for a final restraining order hearing. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped many families with restraining order cases and understands the turbulent time you are going through. Contact the Lento Law Firm by calling 888-535-3686 so we can discuss your case.