New Jersey State Police report more than 60,000 domestic violence offenses every year. The passage of the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act in 2001 allowed police and prosecutors to take these cases more seriously and seek more significant penalties.
However, while the numbers seem high, it doesn’t mean all criminal charges against accused individuals are valid. These cases are never black-and-white, and you should not navigate these charges in New Jersey without a domestic violence attorney. You may face false accusations or acted to defend yourself. If convicted, the court may impose fines and jail time, or a family law judge may restrict access to your children.
Do not face these real-life impacts on your own. If you’re accused of domestic violence in New Jersey, Breslow Law Offices can help.
Contact us through our online form or call 973-239-8000 to discuss your charges and legal options with a criminal defense lawyer. The first consultation at our law firm is free.
New Jersey Domestic Violence Laws
The New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (codified as N.J.S.A. 2C § 25-17 et seq) defines the elements and penalties for domestic violence. Also known by its initials, NJPDVA, it passed in 1991, and the legislature updated it in 2016.
Legally speaking, domestic violence cases involve one partner engaging in a pattern of abusive behavior to control the other partner. Please note that domestic violence need not involve spouses or intimate partners to incur criminal charges. It can also involve family members and others living under the same roof as the person accused of domestic violence.
The NJPDVA defines a victim of domestic violence as someone 18 years or older or an emancipated minor who sustained domestic violence from a spouse, former spouse, any present household member, or anyone who was once a household member, including family members. This definition expands beyond intimate relationships and may also include parents, roommates, and former partners. It also includes anyone with whom the victim shares or expects a child (if the victim is pregnant) whether they remain together or not.
Sharing a household is not a requirement. The law applies if the parties are in an intimate dating relationship, even if they never lived together.
What is considered a domestic violence offense in New Jersey?
Domestic violence describes a pattern of behavior rather than a crime. Offenses fall under domestic violence if the accused commits them against an individual protected in the NJPDVA. These offenses include:
In New Jersey, a person is guilty of criminal homicide if they intentionally, recklessly, and knowingly cause the death of another person. Homicide includes murder, manslaughter, and death by auto (including DUI.) The type of homicide charge and its degree depend on elements including intent, malice aforethought, and the surrounding circumstances.
Assault is the attempt to knowingly, recklessly, or purposes cause injury to another person. It also includes negligently injuring another individual with a deadly weapon or attempts to place a person in grave fear of injury. Assault may be categorized as simple assault or aggravated assault, depending on the recklessness and indifference the abuser has toward the victim.
Terroristic threats are statements intended to place fear in another person. Some threats are severe enough to require building evacuations or even state or county emergencies. Threats made by telephone, text message, or email are all actionable.
False imprisonment is the unlawful restraint of another person. Examples include locking your spouse or significant other in a home or room or denying them access to vehicles so they cannot leave home.
Stalking is a repeated course of conduct that causes emotional distress and fear in a victim. Following a victim, showing up at their workplace, or visiting their home at unreasonable hours can fall under stalking or harassment.
Kidnapping is the removal of another person from their home or work. It often pairs with false imprisonment since many kidnapping incidents also involve confining a victim to prevent escape.
Sexual assault is the unlawful sexual penetration of a victim without their consent. Since it frequently involves coercion, threats, and physical force, other charges are usually filed alongside sexual assault.
Burglary is unlawfully entering a victim’s home or place of business intending to commit an offense within the premises. While burglary is often associated with property theft, it also includes breaking and entering with the intent of inflicting bodily injury or committing sexual assault.
Criminal trespass often accompanies restraining order violations. It includes entering a victim’s property but also other stalking behavior like peering into windows or doors.
Harassment includes communication at unreasonable hours, abusive coarse language, threats of offensive touching, and other conduct intended to alarm or annoy another person. While this offense is minor compared to other domestic violence crimes, it can upgrade if the victim was especially vulnerable or restraining order was in effect.
Contempt of Domestic Violence Order
This offense describes restraining order violations. A restraining order may prevent you from being within 300 feet of the victim or visiting their home. If you violate these or any other provisions of a restraining order, you will face penalties.
New Jersey Domestic Violence Classifications
In addition to its basic definition of domestic violence, New Jersey classifies the criminal charges in one of the following ways:
Also known as domestic violence assault, state laws offer protection for victims of domestic violence to include a spouse, former spouse, a person currently or previously residing in the same household, a person in a current or previous dating relationship with the accused, and a person who has a child in common with the accused. Consequences of a domestic assault charge in New Jersey could include fines, jail time, probation, loss of reputation, and family separation.
As with other types of assault and battery, the two are separate criminal charges in New Jersey when it comes to domestic violence. That is because you don’t need to cause actual physical harm to a victim to receive a domestic abuse battery charge. Domestic battery, on the other hand, involves actual infliction of a physical injury through violence. Though this charge usually stems from altercations between couples, it can involve other family members as well.
Endangering the Welfare of a Child
You may face criminal charges under New Jersey law for endangering the welfare of a child for inflicting physical or sexual abuse or neglecting the child’s basic needs. Unfortunately, it has been the experience of the criminal defense attorneys at our law firm that former spouses or even anonymous sources make this serious accusation without proof and only for retribution. Depending on the severity of the criminal charges, you could face anything from mandatory probation to 10 years in prison if convicted.
A permanent or temporary restraining order is a legal document preventing two parties from having any contact with each other. For example, a spouse or former partner can request a restraining order if violence has already occurred or he or she has reasonable safety concerns. As with child endangerment, people don’t always accuse others of violating a restraining order for the right reasons. The couple could be facing a child custody dispute or other intensely emotional situations and attempt to use the law to cause legal problems for the other party.
A victim of domestic violence deserves to be heard and for the law to take him or her seriously. The same is true for someone facing these criminal charges. The best legal advice we can give you is to secure services from our New Jersey domestic violence lawyer promptly no matter what the charge or situation.
We will begin investigating the situation immediately to lay the groundwork for your defense should the case make it to municipal court. If convicted of violating a permanent or temporary restraining order, you could face up to 18 months in jail, fines, and more restrictive conditions on future restraining orders.
How to Protect Yourself from False Accusations of Domestic Abuse
A former spouse or partner sometimes uses domestic violence accusations to win child custody battles or ensure a permanent separation. A domestic violence accusation may even become a revenge tactic if a party didn’t want the divorce or breakup. There are even attempted murder cases arising in domestic violence crimes where a party doesn’t want to pay alimony or child support.
But if false accusations stand, it will impact your life. You may lose your job, have difficulty securing housing, and lose parenting time with your children. You can even face jail time or find your reputation faces irreversible damage.
If a partner accuses you falsely of domestic violence, it is imperative to keep your cool. Outbursts during court hearings or in public will only help their case. Instead, follow these tips to neutralize false accusations early.
Seek Legal Representation
You must create distance between yourself and your accuser–meaning no direct contact, no spoken or written negotiation, and absolutely no time alone with them. Your attorney will handle any negotiations.
Also, your attorney forms your defense and attends court hearings with you. Their company ensures comfort and security, along with experienced representation as you go through the criminal process.
Always Comply With Any Restraining Orders
Never test a restraining order! Do not visit your accuser at their home or workplace. Do not send text messages trying to explain your side of the story. Let your family law or criminal defense attorney handle communication. Most importantly, do not let your accuser lure you into meeting them or any other individuals included in the order. Keep a record of any meeting requests and any incidents where the accuser shows up at your home or workplace. These instances show they do not actually consider you a threat.
Be Careful What You Say
Stick to your story. Do not give several contradictory statements on what occurred between you and your accuser. Listen to your lawyer and do not make statements to the court or law enforcement without their guidance.
Change Your Log-In Information
Change user names and passwords for all of your social media accounts. Take extra steps to keep email accounts secure, either by changing passwords or using two-factor authentication. Repeat these steps with all your online resources. If your accused is especially vindictive, they may hack into these accounts and make you look bad. It is difficult to defend a threatening message, for example, if it came from your email address.
Be a Good Parent
If children are involved, show you are a great parent. Follow any rules imposed for visitation, including cooperating with supervised visits. While these circumstances are not ideal, they can be addressed once your lawyer discredits the accusations. Also, consult with a family law attorney to ensure you do everything correctly to maintain a relationship with your children.
New Jersey Domestic Violence Lawyers: Frequently Asked Questions
Here are the most common questions we encounter at domestic violence consultations:
What constitutes domestic violence?
Domestic violence includes various criminal acts committed by a household member, intimate partner, or former partner or household member. These acts include:
- Terroristic Threats
- Unlawful Imprisonment
- Criminal Restraint
- Criminal Trespass
- Sexual Assualt
- Criminal Sexual Contact
- Criminal Mischief
- Restraining order violations
- Contempt of a domestic violence order
While the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (NJPDVA) lists specific crimes, it also clarifies that any offense involving the risk of death or personal injury falls under domestic violence. New Jersey law also includes threats and harassment committed through electronic communication, including text messages, email, and social media.
Why should I hire a criminal defense attorney?
The consequences of a domestic violence conviction are serious. Mere accusations often lead to job loss, housing difficulties, soiled reputations, and restrictive child custody arrangements. You may also find it more challenging to secure a new job or maintain current social connections.
Domestic violence accusations are also emotionally stressful. You will not be at your best, and you might make bad decisions. A domestic violence lawyer offers guidance and reassurance as you go through a tough time. You will not have to worry about communicating with your accuser, the court, or law enforcement and possibly saying the wrong thing.
The criminal justice system is also tricky to navigate with paperwork, deadlines, and hearings. An attorney stays on top of these challenges, so you do not have to worry about them. Your attorney also interviews witnesses and negotiates with prosecutors, so you do not have to do so with limited legal knowledge and training.
Is domestic violence a felony or misdemeanor in New Jersey?
Domestic violence is a felony, and the crimes connected with it are rated on a first to fourth-degree scale. For example, harassment is usually a fourth-degree offense, while assault, sexual assault, and homicide are first or second-degree offenses.
What are the penalties for domestic violence?
If you are convicted of the lowest-rated offense (fourth-degree crime), you face up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine. Seriously first-degree charges attract prison sentences up to 20 years. Other penalties include a temporary restraining order (TRO), final restraining order (FRO), and prohibition of weapon ownership. If the police seized any weapons during your arrest, you are unlikely to get them back unless the court dismisses your charges.
What is the domestic violence complaint process?
Domestic violence cases proceed as follows:
- Mandatory arrest: If a victim exhibits any sign of injury, the police must arrest the suspect. “Exhibiting injury” includes visible cuts and bruises, physical pain, reduced mobility, and other impairments. If a victim does not show signs of injury, the officer decides whether to arrest based on the victim’s statements. Otherwise, the officer will sign a criminal complaint stating probable cause that domestic violence occurred.
- Weapons seizure: If an officer sees any weapons on-site at the time of arrest, they will seize them. When weapons are present but not in plain view, the officer requests the victim’s permission to search for and take any weapons. If they cannot secure permission from the suspect or victim, the officer will seek a domestic violence warrant to search for and seize weapons.
Discuss Your Charges With a Domestic Violence Defense Attorney Nearby
The state of New Jersey takes domestic violence seriously. While this is a good development for victims of domestic violence and marginalized people, it does not mean you should face domestic violence charges without a good defense. Whether you endure false accusations or your case has mitigating circumstances, we are here to form an effective defense and ensure the criminal justice system treats you fairly.
Breslow Law Offices knows New Jersey domestic violence law and how to apply it to your unique situation. Our attorneys spent time both as defense lawyers and prosecutors in municipal court and superior court, so we know how the system works and our legal advice reflects that. Let us help you achieve the best resolution.
Speak with an experienced domestic violence attorney at Breslow Law today. Contact us online or call 973-239-8000 for a free consultation.