New Jersey takes a harsh stance on domestic violence. The court system deals with violent acts or crimes conducted within a household or on members. The typical action for domestic violence is for the victim to seek a restraining order that forces the aggressor (defendant) from harassing or harming the victim (plaintiff). But what if the defendant violates the restraining order and threatens the plaintiff? Do victims in New Jersey have the right to use reasonable force to defend themselves?
The short answer is yes. But numerous aspects of this scenario must be unpacked to fully understand what is permissible and when.
Violations of a Restraining Order
A restraining order is a court order that protects plaintiffs by prohibiting a defendant from contacting or harassing the plaintiff or from coming within a certain distance of the plaintiff.
Restraining orders may also prohibit the defendant from actions such as:
- Contacting the plaintiff's family or employer or having someone contact the plaintiff on their behalf
- Going to locations where the defendant knows the plaintiff might be, such as their place of work or school
- Harassing the plaintiff online
- Owning or possessing firearms
As with domestic violence, New Jersey takes restraining order violations very seriously. If a defendant violates the terms of a restraining order—or someone accuses them of violating a restraining order—the police will arrest them. The defendant may face contempt charges and possible jail time.
Legal Rights to Self Defense
In New Jersey, self-defense is a legal right that someone can use to protect themselves or others from a violent attack, their home against a criminal trespasser, or their personal property from theft. This holds true in cases of domestic violence where one person has a restraining order against the other.
In section 2C:3-4 of New Jersey's revised statute, to use force in self-protection, the following must be true:
- The other person was trying to harm you physically
- You had to take immediate action to prevent the other person from harming you
- The use of force was reasonable and proportionate to the threat
If the plaintiff or another person wasn't in immediate danger or the plaintiff's use of force was excessive, a court may consider the act of self-defense an assault and criminal charges may follow.
Protecting Yourself When Someone Violates a Restraining Order
Restraining orders are put in place to protect people from harm. When someone violates that order and threatens another person, the victim may have grounds to defend themselves or others they believe are in danger.
If you or a loved one is involved in matters of Family Law in New Jersey, contact attorney Joseph D. Lento and his Family Law team at the Lento Law Firm today.