Harassment charges in New Jersey arise from many conflict situations. An argument with a neighbor, bad break-up, or contentious divorce often results in one party facing harassment charges. What seemed to be a petty dispute is now a life-altering event. While facing harassment charges appears to be an annoying vindictive act on the surface, it is a serious charge that leads to fines and jail time.
If a contentious situation or argument has you facing harassment charges, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney. The lawyers at Breslow Law Offices built careers on both the prosecution and defense sides of criminal matters. This experience gives us inside information on how the state may proceed with your harassment charges, allowing us to form effective defense strategies.
If you face harassment charges in New Jersey, contact us online or call 973-239-8000 to schedule a free, no-risk consultation and discuss your charges and defense options available in New Jersey criminal law.
New Jersey Harassment Law §2C:33-4 – What is Harassment?
New Jersey law addresses harassment in NJ Statutes §2C:33-4. Harassment is a petty disorderly persons offense that includes behavior intended to harass another person. The statute describes the following actions as harassment:
- Communicating with offensive, threatening, or coarse language;
- Annoying and communicating with another person at inconvenient hours (e.g., phone calls at 2:00 AM or during the victim’s work hours);
- Hitting, kicking, shoving, or other offensive touching to another person or threatening to do so;
- Verbal or written threats; and
- Other alarming conduct toward another person.
Keep in mind that your behavior may not be harassment for one person, but it can become a criminal offense for another. For example, someone with past trauma may feel harassed when another yells at them or uses profanities. Likewise, a night owl who is up all night anyway may not find a 2:00 AM telephone call harassing, but someone who starts work at 6:00 AM likely will feel that way.
The law is not clear on text messages and email. However, repeated messages can constitute harassment if they are threatening, annoying, or made at unreasonable times.
What are the Penalties for Harassment in New Jersey?
New Jersey law considers harassment a petty disorderly persons offense. A petty disorderly persons offense is a lower-level charge applied to less severe crimes and categorized as a fourth-degree offense. Other examples of a petty disorderly persons offense include disorderly conduct, public lewdness, shoplifting less than $200 of merchandise, and possession of 50 grams or less of marijuana. These are usually handled in municipal court.
A harassment conviction results in up to six months in prison and/or $1,000 in fines. The judge will consider the harassing acts and effects on the victim when setting a sentence.
But if you hire an attorney, you are more likely to face a lighter sentence and smaller fine than if you try to navigate the criminal justice system on your own. One way to reduce charges and penalties is to see if any mitigating factors apply. These include:
- No cause or threat of serious harm;
- The victim provoked or threatened you;
- You already compensated the victim or planned to do so;
- You agree to community service;
- You have no prior criminal record; and
- You willingly cooperated with law enforcement.
Unfortunately, other circumstances can upgrade your charges and enhance sentencing possibilities. When this is the case, we focus our efforts on avoiding the upgrade and ensuring the court evaluates your charges fairly.
When can a Harassment Charge be Upgraded?
Harassment upgrades from a petty disorderly persons offense to a crime of the fourth degree if, at the time of the harassment, you were convicted of an indictable offense and serving prison time or on parole or probation. You can also face upgraded charges if actions and statements were especially harmful or terrorizing.
A prosecutor may decide to enhance charges to any of the following:
- Simple Assault: Especially if the confrontation leads to a physical altercation and someone sustains injuries
- Aggravated Assault: If a confrontation levels up to this charge, it becomes a felony. You may be indicted for a second, third, or fourth-degree felony and face the possibility of longer prison terms and higher fines.
- Terroristic Threats: These are threats intended to terrorize the victim and disrupt their daily life. If the threats cause a public safety hazard or public building evacuation, you will face higher penalties.
You can also face upgraded charges if your action contained aggravating factors. These include:
- Acts were especially heinous or cruel;
- The victim sustains serious harm or emotional distress;
- Harassment committed against a police officer, firefighter, or other public servants; or
- The victim is vulnerable due to ill health, advanced age, extreme age, or mental or physical disability that compromises their ability to resist
Once the court upgrades your charges, you face severe penalties. If you were in jail, on parole, or probation at the time, you automatically face a fourth-degree crime and up to 18 months in prison and $10,000 in fines. From there is, possible sentences increase with each upgrade:
- Third-Degree Crime: Between three to five years in prison
- Second-Degree Crime: Between five and ten years in prison
- First-Degree Crime: Between 10 and 20 years in prison
If you have a previous record or were in prison, on parole, or probation at the time, your need for a criminal defense lawyer is especially critical. The prosecutor will likely emphasize these circumstances to maximize your charges and sentence.
You may also face other criminal charges in addition to harassment. Domestic violence, requests for a restraining order, and even DWI can accompany harassment. It can be very easy to focus on one charge and neglect the others–especially if you do not hire a harassment lawyer to present you.
Discuss your Harassment Charges with a New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorney Today
Do not let a momentary lapse of judgment ruin your life; hire a criminal defense law firm if you face harassment charges in New Jersey.
Breslow Law Offices offers free consultations and legal advice if you receive a harassment complaint. Once hired, we will investigate your case and see if mitigating factors apply. At the very least, we ensure the court treats you fairly and does not burden you with excessive charges or criminal sentences.
You do not want to navigate the criminal justice system on your own, especially with the risks of an upgraded charge and a long prison sentence in harassment cases.
Schedule your consultation today by completing the online form or calling 973-239-8000 (Verona office) or 609-494-8884 (Long Beach Island office). We also offer defense representation for other offenses and expungement services.