We all know that domestic violence is a serious matter. New Jersey law specifically protects victims of domestic violence, allowing them to seek a court order to keep an abuser from contacting or approaching them under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991. However, domestic violence encompasses more than assault, harassment, or stalking. In New Jersey, a long list of crimes may qualify as “domestic violence,” including making threats of violence against someone with whom you are or were in a domestic relationship.
Under New Jersey law, making threats to commit a violent crime may qualify as a “terroristic threat,” an indictable offense. See N.J.S.A. § 2C:12-3 (2002). An indictable offense is the equivalent of a felony in other states. Terroristic threats also qualify as domestic violence under New Jersey's domestic violence laws if they occur between two people who are or were in a domestic relationship.
- Third-degree Indictable Offense Terroristic threats may be a third-degree indictable offense if an individual threatens to kill someone, putting them “in imminent fear of death” if the circumstances of the threat caused them to reasonably believe the threat was immediate and the accused was likely to carry it out. Police may also charge threats as a third-degree offense if someone threatens violence in an attempt to terrorize someone or makes people evacuate a building, public transportation, or public gathering place, or if they cause “serious public inconvenience.” The penalty for a third-degree indictable offense conviction is a three-to-five-year prison sentence, with a presumptive sentence of at least four years. A conviction also carries a fine of up to $15,000.
- Second-degree Indictable Offense If someone makes a violent threat during a national, state, or county-declared emergency, it can be a second-degree indictable offense. The offender will be “strictly liable” if the threats happen during a state of emergency, whether they knew about the declaration or not. The penalty for a second-degree felony conviction is a prison sentence of five to ten years, with a presumptive sentence of at least seven years. A second-degree offense conviction also carries fines of up to $150,000.
Restraining Orders for Domestic Violence & Terroristic Threats
In New Jersey, applicants can obtain a restraining order through the Family Part of the Chancery Division of the Superior Court in their county. The applicant will first request a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) from the court on the basis that:
- The parties have a domestic relationship, such as a current or former intimate or other family relationship
- There was a predicate act of domestic violence, including crimes such as assault, harassment, or terroristic threats
- There is an immediate need for a restraining order to prevent further acts of domestic violence
The initial hearing will take place ex parte, meaning only the petitioner will appear before the judge. If the judge decides to grant the TRO, another hearing must follow it to determine whether to make the order permanent. The court will set the hearing for a Final Restraining Order (FRO) within about ten business days of issuing the TRO.
Both the petitioner and the defendant have the right to attend this hearing, present witnesses and evidence, and cross-examine the other party's witnesses. While you don't have to have an attorney for a FRO hearing as either the petitioner or the defendant, it is a formal court hearing. Your best chance of success is with an experienced restraining order attorney representing you in court.
Criminal Complaints for Terroristic Threats
While a restraining order is an action in civil court, a victim of domestic violence can also file a criminal complaint alleging assault or some other act of domestic violence as part of the restraining order process. A complaint for a TRO alleges that the other party committed a “predicate act of domestic violence,” which is an underlying criminal offense.
As part of a criminal case for terroristic threats, the court may also issue a “no contact order,” preventing the defendant from contacting or approaching the alleged victim of the crime until the case is resolved. This order is similar to a restraining order but happens in the criminal court, often as a condition of bail or probation. While the court may issue a no-contact order automatically, the victim can also request one.
In determining whether to issue a no-contact order, the court will typically consider:
- Any injuries to the victim
- The severity of the crime
- The relationship between the parties
- Whether the order is necessary to keep the victim safe
If you're facing a restraining order and accused of making violent threats against the applicant, you could also face criminal domestic violence charges for terroristic threats. While defending yourself against a restraining order may seem far less serious than criminal charges, the two can be related. That's why you need an experienced New Jersey criminal defense attorney well versed in handling restraining orders and family law protecting your rights.
Violating a Restraining Order for Terroristic Threats
While a restraining order is typically a civil matter in the New Jersey courts, violating a restraining order is a criminal offense. If convicted, the defendant will have a criminal record for criminal contempt of a court order. Violating a restraining order a second time can result in a mandatory 30-day jail sentence.
You Need a Skilled Restraining Order Lawyer
You need an attorney well versed in handling restraining order and domestic violence matters, whether you're defending yourself from a criminal complaint for a restraining order or attempting to obtain a restraining order after threats of violence against you or your family. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the legal team at the Lento Law Firm have been handling domestic violence and restraining order matters in New Jersey for years. Find out how they can help you too. Contact the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 to set up your consultation.