Domestic violence is serious, and the state of New Jersey treats this form of aggression accordingly. Whether you're the aggressor or the victim, restraining orders will have a huge impact on your daily life and may even have long-term impacts. If the parties share minor children, the restraining order obligations can be even more difficult to navigate.
Navigating the restrictions put in place by a restraining order is often more complicated than would initially appear. Though these devices are necessary for protecting victims of domestic violence, it's important to consider how the rules of a restraining order will affect your life. Both during the commission of the domestically violent act, and after a restraining order is put in place, it can be easy for offenders to end up with criminal charges.
Understanding Restraining Orders in New Jersey
Restraining orders are a remedy available only to victims of domestic violence. New Jersey defines domestic violence as occurring between:
- People who are or were married
- People who are or were dating
- People who are or did live together
- People who have children together
Restraining orders in New Jersey are issued by the NJ Superior Court's Family Division Office. Victims of domestic violence must first apply for a temporary restraining order (TRO), after which a hearing will be heard without the aggressor's presence. Depending on the circumstances, a TRO may be approved, which will prohibit the aggressor from contacting or approaching the victim. The TRO is meant to protect victims until the final restraining order (FRO) hearing can be had, which usually takes place within ten days.
Both the victim and the accused will be present at the FRO hearing, and both parties have the right to be represented by a lawyer. If the judge finds evidence justifying a FRO, the FRO will be imposed on the aggressor. If the evidence doesn't justify a restraining order, the TRO will be dismissed.
Importantly, TROs expire after ten days, but FROs have no expiration date. They will remain in full force and effect until either:
- The plaintiff files a motion to dismiss or modify the FRO, or
- The defendant files a motion to dismiss or modify the FRO.
Even when parties reconcile or a plaintiff drops any criminal charges against the defendant, the restraining order will remain in place until a judge orders otherwise.
Possessing Weapons for Unlawful Purposes During Domestic Violence
Pursuant to N.J.S.A 2C:39-4, it is illegal to possess a weapon for the purpose of unlawful use against another person. In the context of domestic violence, this unlawful purpose might include:
- Criminal mischief
Although restraining orders are not criminal in nature, many aggressors will ultimately be charged with violating N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4 while committing the act of domestic violence that triggered the restraining order. If this is the case, the defendant can be charged with a crime. Specifically, the following weapon types are charged as follows:
- Second Degree—Charged if a defendant possesses a firearm, explosives, or destructive devices for the purpose of unlawful use against another person.
- Third Degree—Charged if a defendant possesses “other weapons” for the purpose of unlawful use against another person.
- Fourth Degree—Charged if a defendant possesses imitation firearms for the purpose of unlawful use against another person.
While the second-degree and fourth-degree offenses are fairly straightforward, the third-degree offense is more ambiguous. What exactly constitutes “other weapons” is up for interpretation and will likely be ascertained based on the complaint of the victim. While there's no doubt an aggressor may use any sort of object as a weapon in committing an act of domestic violence, sometimes the heightened emotions of the situation mean the two parties have drastically different opinions on who was threatening who with what.
This ambiguity and misinterpretation can have severe consequences for the defendant. While a first-degree offense is the most serious in New Jersey, a third-degree conviction can still carry penalties, including three to five years in jail, fines up to $15,000, and the consequences associated with having a criminal record.
Violating a New Jersey Restraining Order Can Lead to Additional Criminal Charges
Weapons will also be taken into consideration by the judge when a restraining order is sought. If a FRO is ordered against a defendant, the judge will prohibit the defendant from buying or possessing firearms. Not only will the defendant be required to hand over the guns they currently own, but they won't even be able to get a firearms purchaser identification card while the FRO is in effect.
For some, this prohibition means they won't be able to partake in their preferred hobbies, like hunting. They could be tempted to try and hide their guns or illegally purchase guns. Doing so would constitute a violation of the restraining order, at the very least, which will result in a criminal contempt charge.
How an Experienced New Jersey Family Law Attorney Can Help You
Domestic violence is difficult for everyone involved. In familial relationships, emotions often run high, and people do things they shouldn't without thinking their actions through. Family Law Attorney Joseph D. Lento understands how delicate the issue of domestic violence can be for all parties, especially when children are involved. Mr. Lento has vast experience handling family law cases, and he knows that each situation deserves a uniquely tailored approach. At the end of the day, you need and deserve legal help that addresses the seriousness of your situation.
The dedicated family law team at the Lento Law Firm can help you through this difficult time by providing you with aggressive legal advocacy and compassion. To learn how Mr. Lento can help you and your family, call 888.535.3686 today or contact us online.