Criminal restraint, as written in the New Jersey criminal code, is charged when a person uses force to prohibit another person from departing a precise location or a possibly dangerous situation with risk of bodily injury. Criminal restraint charges can also be filed in cases of domestic violence. Preventing a spouse or partner from leaving on their own volition by threatening harm is against the law. New Jersey takes this charge very seriously, and the penalties for criminal restraint can be grim.
Kidnapping, criminal restraint, and false imprisonment are often mislabeled. Kidnapping involves the physical removal of a person from one place to another against their will to facilitate a crime, inflict bodily injury, terrorize the victim, alter the actions of governmental or political action, or prevent a parent or guardian access to a minor. Kidnapping is a first-degree felony. False imprisonment is similar to criminal restraint but without the threat of harm. It is a disorderly persons offense.
Two Paths to Commit Criminal Restraint
There are two ways to commit criminal restraint. The first is if the defendant knowingly and unlawfully restrains the victim and illegally exposes them to danger, violence, or harm. The second is to hold the victim in a condition of involuntary servitude.
Necessary Requirements to Prove Criminal Restraint in NJ
Several elements must be present for the charge of criminal restraint to be applied. First, the defendant had to have acted knowingly, meaning they were aware of the possible consequences of their actions on the victim. This state of mind is known as mens rea, the Latin term for the intention or knowledge of wrongdoing that constitutes part of a crime.
The defendant’s actions must be unlawful. The forcible restraining of the victim is accomplished by lying to manipulate the victim, physically forcing them to stay, or threatening them into compliance. Actual physical violence isn’t always needed to convince the victim they were unable to leave. The RISK of death, disfigurement, or serious bodily injury, without the manifestation of violence, is still considered criminal restraint. Additionally, violence that is used to restrain the victim continually is part of this law. Holding a person in involuntary servitude means the victim is detained by force, intimidation, imprisonment, or other means against their will.
The prosecution must prove the following beyond a reasonable doubt: the defendant knew what they were doing was a crime and that restraining the victim and exposing them to serious harm was also a condition of involuntary servitude.
An Example of Criminal Restraint from a Real-Life Scenario
Let’s look at this example that breaks down the components of this law: Gunther and his wife, Hannah, have been married for 11 years. Recently, Gunther lost his job and became despondent. One evening, Hannah chose to go out with some coworkers, and when she arrived home, Gunther was less than cordial. An argument ensued, and Gunther made it very clear that he was armed and had no intention of letting Hannah out of the house, not then, not ever. Hannah spent the weekend locked in the guest room. Gunther brought her food and drinks but would not let her leave and assured her that any attempt to flee would result in her demise. By Wednesday, family and friends who had been unable to speak with her decided to get the police involved for a wellness check. They were able to diffuse the situation and took Gunther into custody.
Analysis: Gunther knew he was restraining Hannah, that the restraint was unlawful, and his actions were illegal, so the “knowingly” part of the offense is covered. Hannah was forced to stay in the guest room/in their house, so her liberty was interfered with. Also, Gunther had a weapon and threatened to use it, which is a risk of bodily injury.
Grave Consequences For Criminal Restraint in NJ
Criminal restraint is a third-degree felony with a prison term of up to five years and a fine of up to $15,000. It is rarely the only charge in those circumstances. Assault, domestic violence, weapons charges, and others are commonly seen with criminal restraint charges.
Criminal Restraint and the Requirements for NJ Pretrial Intervention Program
New Jersey allows individuals with no prior indictable offense convictions or failed attempts to complete the PTI program to have their charges dismissed upon completion. If the individual violates the program’s rules or does not complete the required activities, such as classes and community service, the charges will be sought again. However, domestic violence offenses are presumably considered ineligible for Pre-Trial Intervention, so if a criminal restraint charge is filed in a domestic violence case, this changes things substantially. There are exceptions that can be made but this undoubtedly requires assistance from an experienced criminal defense lawyer.
Preventing a Conviction for Criminal Restraint in New Jersey
Weak witness testimony filled with few details, conflicting statements, and sweeping generalizations don’t go very far in a criminal court. If the prosecutor cannot rely on the victim to give a clear account of the events, there will likely be no conviction.
Criminal restraint charges cannot hold up against the parents or guardians of minors when the purpose is only to get control of the child. However, if the prosecution presents evidence of an event- or series of events- that within a custody or visitation dispute indicates one parent refusing to allow the other their legal parenting time, the “controlling the child” defense is useless.
Criminal Restraint as a Basis for a Domestic Violence Restraining Order
As in the prior example, domestic violence cases frequently coincide with criminal restraint charges. Restraining orders can be filed against a spouse, significant other, an ex, or family member. A Temporary Restraining Order is granted almost immediately. The main condition of the TRO is that the defendant does not contact the complainant by phone, text, email, letter, or through a third party. After 10 days, a hearing will decide if the order will become permanent. At this hearing, both sides can bring witnesses to testify on their behalf.
If the defendant and the plaintiff reside in the same place, police will escort the defendant out of the home. The defendant is prohibited from going to the plaintiff’s place of employment, school, gym, friends’ homes if the plaintiff is there, or any public place that would go against the required distance between them as is stipulated in the order.
Distinguishing Between Restraining Orders and Criminal Proceedings on the Basis of Criminal Restraint in NJ
Restraining Orders are decided in Family Superior Court. The Temporary Restraining Order is issued for 10 days while the Final Restraining Order does not have an end date. To obtain an order, there must be proof of imminent danger. Criminal Proceedings occur in Superior Court if it is an indictable offense or Municipal Court if it is a disorderly person offense.
Disregarding a restraining order is considered contempt of court, and contrary to popular belief, you can go to jail for ignoring the order. Criminal proceedings are charges against the defendant because they have broken the law. The relationship between a restraining order violation and a felony charge for a violent crime is that the sentence determined for the criminal conviction may be longer than the suggested minimum due to the circumstances regarding the restraining order when the victim(s) of both are involved.
Our Dedicated Attorneys are Here to Defend Your Case if You Have Been Accused of Criminal Restraint in Morris County, NJ
If you or someone you know is facing criminal restraint charges, legal representation is of the utmost importance. A felony conviction can be detrimental to you in many ways: obtaining a loan, background checks for apartments, and certain professions such as teaching, law enforcement, or government jobs, and others.
Our practiced attorneys have a deep desire for justice and while we know that your case is unique, previous experience has shown us that it is attention to detail and the careful consideration of all of the facts of a case that can build your defense. We advocate for clients in Parsippany, Morristown, Florham Park, Denville, Randolph, Mount Olive, Madison, and other towns in the Morris County area.
If you would like to talk with us now, call 973-524-7238 or contact us online for an absolutely free consultation.