When does the effort to make contact cross the line into stalking? If someone is repeatedly contacting you against your wishes and you are frightened, their actions may meet the state of New Jersey's legal definition of stalking. And if someone you repeatedly try to contact has told you to stop, you may have crossed the line into stalking. In New Jersey, a stalking victim can petition the court for a restraining order against the perpetrator if there is a current or past qualifying domestic relationship between the parties. Unfortunately, in some cases, the petitioner may misrepresent the actions of the person named in the petition as stalking when they are not. Whether you seek to obtain a restraining order because of stalking or have been named in one, it is important to seek the counsel of an experienced attorney.
Restraining Orders in New Jersey
A restraining order protects the plaintiff (the petitioner) by setting guidelines for the behavior of the defendant (the individual named by the plaintiff); law enforcement can intervene if the defendant fails to comply.
Initially, the court enacts a temporary restraining order (TRO) after reviewing and accepting the plaintiff's application. After a final restraining order (FRO) hearing, a judge decides whether to make the restraining order permanent. A restraining order can prohibit actions by the defendant such as contact with the plaintiff, force the defendant to undergo a mental health evaluation or counseling, or order the defendant to make payments such as child support. If the plaintiff and defendant live together, the court may order the defendant to move out.
In New Jersey, restraining orders are used to prevent nineteen criminal offenses defined under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA) of 1991. The plaintiff and defendant must have a current or past qualifying domestic relationship. This includes couples—both opposite sex and same sex—who are or have been married or dating; siblings, children, and parents; members of the same household including housemates; couples who have a child or children together; and family members related by blood or marriage. Note that a person who is being stalked by a stranger cannot petition for a restraining order.
Stalking As Grounds for a Restraining Order in New Jersey
Stalking is one of the criminal offenses the PDVA covers. N.J. Stat. § 2C:12-10 describes the kind of repeated (i.e., on two or more occasions) conduct that constitutes stalking, including the following:
- Repeatedly maintaining physical or visual proximity to a person
- Following or monitoring a person
- Interfering with a person's property
- Conveying or implying threats, including in writing, verbally, or by other means of communication (although not specifically named, this includes electronic forms such as texting, emailing, and via online platforms including social media)
Examples of stalking include damaging the victim's car, flooding them with hundreds of emails each week, calling their telephone repeatedly every day, and showing up at their workplace unannounced and uninvited.
A person is guilty of stalking if he “purposefully or knowingly engages in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear for his safety or the safety of a third person or suffer other emotional distress.” Stalking is a crime of the fourth degree. However, a person is guilty of a crime of the third degree when committing the crime of stalking in these instances:
- It violates an existing court order prohibiting stalking
- It is the second or subsequent offense of stalking against the same victim
- It is committed while the person is imprisoned or on probation or parole
Under N.J. Stat. § 2C:12-10.1, “A judgment of conviction for stalking shall operate as an application for a permanent restraining order limiting the contact of the defendant and the victim who was stalked.” Relief granted by a permanent restraining order may include orders restraining the defendant from (1) entering places frequented by the victim, including their home and workplace, and (2) contacting the victim.
N.J. Stat. § 2C:12-10.2 specifically describes procedures when the victim of stalking is under the age of 18 years or is over the age of 18 years and is developmentally disabled. In these cases, the parent or guardian of the victim may seek an emergency temporary restraining order that limits contact between the defendant and the victim; a conviction of stalking is not a prerequisite. Within ten days, the court will hold a hearing to determine if there is a preponderance of evidence for continuing the temporary restraining order.
The Benefits of an Attorney's Counsel
Whether you feel the need for the protection of a restraining order because you are being stalked or find yourself named in one as a defendant, an experienced attorney is crucial for navigating these complicated legal waters. If you are a victim, your safety is the primary concern, and an attorney can advise you on everything from gathering records of stalking to the best strategy for filing your petition for a restraining order. If you are a defendant on a restraining order for stalking, it is critical that you understand the legal implications and the possible impact on your future. Consequences for a stalking conviction can include limits on where you can live or work or even prison time. Know your rights, know the law—get advice from an attorney experienced in this area.
Contact the Lento Law Firm Today
A restraining order is a serious legal matter. It is important to have an experienced, knowledgeable attorney advise you on your rights and responsibilities, whether you need to obtain a restraining order or have been or may be named in one. For the best advice, call the Lento Law Firm toll-free at 888-535-3686 or contact us online.