Domestic violence is a serious issue in New Jersey, and the state has laws and procedures in place to offer protection to victims. One way a person can get legal protection from domestic abuse is by requesting a restraining order against their abuser. These enforceable protection orders allow police officers to make an arrest if the order is violated. Whether you are a victim of domestic abuse or accused of committing domestic violence, you should know how police investigations of these matters work and what could lead to an arrest.
How New Jersey Classifies Domestic Violence
The state of New Jersey recognizes a range of crimes as domestic violence, not just physical assault. These crimes include:
- Criminal restraint
- Sexual assault
- Sexual contact
- Terroristic threats
- Criminal mischief
- Criminal trespass
For one of the above crimes to be considered domestic violence, it must occur between people in a domestic relationship. Qualifying relationships are:
- Former spouses
- Members of the same household
- People with a child in common
- Current or former dating partners
Does a Domestic Violence Incident Lead to an Arrest?
If domestic violence occurs in a household and someone calls the police, the law enforcement officers who show up on the scene may make an arrest, depending on the situation. In some instances, the police must make an arrest, but in others, it's up to the discretion of the officer.
A police officer is required to make an arrest for domestic violence if:
- The victim has signs of injury, including physical pain or impairment
- The police officer sees signs of internal injury
- Witnesses on the scene tell the police officer that the victim was punched, hit, or kicked
- The alleged offender violated a no-contact or restraining order
- The alleged offender has an outstanding arrest warrant or bench warrant
- The alleged offender used a weapon in committing the domestic violence
New Jersey Statutes, § 2C:39-1r define what a “weapon” is for the purposes of making an arrest.
Police officers may make an arrest for domestic violence if they have probable cause to believe that it occurred. If the officer doesn't have probable cause, they must inform the alleged victim that they can sign a criminal complaint, which allows the police to arrest the alleged offender.
What If Both Parties Have Injuries?
In physical altercations involving domestic violence, it's possible for both parties to have signs of injury. In this case, a law enforcement officer will determine who to arrest using the following criteria:
- The comparative injuries to each party
- History of domestic violence between the two parties, if any
- Threats or use of actual abuse that result in fear of physical harm
- Whether one party acted in self-defense
Police will also use other relevant factors to decide which party should be arrested when on the scene of a domestic violence incident.
What Do Police Officers Do at the Scene of a Domestic Violence Incident?
Making an arrest isn't the only responsibility of a law enforcement officer when they're called to investigate domestic violence. They must also ensure rapid medical assistance to anyone who is injured, take interviews and statements, collect evidence, and create an incident report.
An officer typically interviews the victim and suspect separately and may ask the victim if there is a history of abuse. If children are present, the officer will most likely interview them separately as well.
The type of evidence a police officer collects from a domestic violence scene includes:
- The condition of the scene
- Signs of substance abuse
- Photos of damaged property
- The location and identification of firearms and weapons on the premises
- Photos of the victim's and suspect's injuries
When they're done assessing the scene, taking statements, gathering evidence, and possibly making an arrest, a police officer must file an incident report from a domestic violence scene. The report includes all the information the officer gathered, presented in an objective way.
Domestic Violence Restraining Orders in New Jersey
One way New Jersey aims to prevent domestic violence is by issuing restraining orders. Someone who has been a victim of domestic violence or feels a legitimate threat of domestic violence can request a restraining order against someone else. The person requesting the order is the “plaintiff,” and the person who receives the order is the “defendant.”
If the police arrive at a domestic violence scene, they may recommend to the victim to file for a restraining order against the alleged perpetrator, if one is not already in place. Otherwise, a plaintiff can go to a courthouse or police station to request one. Once the plaintiff fills out the request form and it's approved by the courts, a temporary restraining order is issued and remains in effect for about ten days. After those ten days, the court holds a hearing with the plaintiff and defendant, where both can argue their side. At the hearing, a judge will determine if the temporary restraining order can be dropped or if it should be changed to a final restraining order. Final restraining orders are permanent and usually don't have an end date.
Domestic Violence and Restraining Orders in New Jersey: How an Attorney Can Help
If you are involved with a restraining order in New Jersey, either as a plaintiff or defendant, having legal assistance can help you get through your final restraining order hearing. Defendants that get served final restraining orders have a lot to lose, as they could be prevented from seeing their kids, holding certain jobs, or possessing firearms. Plaintiffs who fail to get a final restraining order may not have the protection they need.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has worked on many domestic violence and restraining order cases in New Jersey and can help you and your family get through this difficult process. Contact the Lento Law Firm by calling 888-535-3686, so we can start answering your questions.