In New Jersey, domestic violence is a term that describes a pattern of physical, emotional, verbal, or sexual abuse committed against a spouse, ex-spouse, partner, date, or parent of the victim’s child, family, or household member. In many domestic violence cases, a victim reports the alleged abuser’s use or possession of a firearm. In some cases, the accused uses a gun to commit an act of domestic violence as defined by the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, such as burglary or assault. In other cases, the alleged victim may express fear of their alleged abuser’s ownership of guns. Domestic violence and gun ownership may lead to multiple legal violations and criminal charges that define domestic violence or are incident to it.

All About the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act

The Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991 (PDVA), outlined in New Jersey statute 2C:25-19, defines domestic violence as committing one of 19 offenses upon a person who is involved with the accused or has been in a relationship with them. Those offenses include assault, terroristic threats, kidnapping, criminal restraint, false imprisonment, criminal mischief, burglary, robbery, criminal trespass, stalking, harassment, sexual assault, lewdness, criminal sexual contact, cyber harassment, criminal coercion, homicide, contempt for violating a restraining order, and other crimes that place another’s life at risk of death or serious injury. A person may commit any one of the listed offenses with a firearm.

Consequences of Domestic Disputes Involving Weapons

So, when a heated argument erupts between spouses and one pulls out a gun to threaten the other against walking out on them, they may be guilty of several crimes under the PDVA, namely, assault, criminal restraint, false imprisonment, or terroristic threats. Just pointing the gun may be assault. In such a scenario, the spouse threatening and confining the other commits the underlying offense of domestic violence that may justify a restraining order by the threatened and confined spouse. But that depends on the couple’s history of violence and the evidence to prove that the alleged victim’s health and safety are at risk.

Permanent Restraining Orders Require Surrendering Firearms

Should the threatened spouse successfully obtain a final restraining order, the defendant spouse must surrender their firearms to the police. Anyone subject to a domestic violence restraining order may not buy or possess a gun. Whether a criminal court has yet to convict the restrained spouse on the criminal offenses or the restrained spouse’s conviction is only a disorderly persons offense, they must surrender their firearms. And once the court convicts a defendant of a domestic violence crime, the defendant must surrender their guns, FPIC, and permits to law enforcement.

Firearms Confiscated at Incidents of Domestic Violence

Even if law enforcement suspects domestic violence, they may confiscate firearms. For example, when the police arrive at a scene of domestic violence, they must seize firearms they see at the location if they believe domestic violence occurred and any Firearms Purchasing Identification Card (FPIC) or permit to buy a handgun. From there, the prosecutor has 45 days to petition the court for a hearing on the issue of whether the gun should be kept or returned to the accused. If the prosecutor presents evidence that the gun owner is guilty of domestic violence, domestic violence continues, or the gun owner is ineligible to own a gun, a judge can order the surrender of the weapon in question and all the accused’s guns to the police.

Navigating the Complexities of Guns in Domestic Violence Cases

Firearms in the domestic violence arena can lead to a complex web of legal problems. Thus, when law enforcement seizes guns from an accused domestic violence perpetrator or the alleged victim gets a restraining order, the legal ownership of the firearm or firearms comes into question. An individual who does not have a handgun permit or may not legally own or possess a gun faces additional criminal charges besides domestic violence offenses. While the superior court’s family division handles domestic violence actions and restraining orders, the superior court’s criminal division handles the crimes underlying the domestic violence action and any other crimes collateral to the domestic violence, including unlawful gun possession.

Gun Ownership Regulations for Domestic Violence Offenders in NJ

New Jersey law forbids anyone from getting a handgun permit or FPIC when they have a history of criminal convictions or offenses involving domestic violence. New Jersey statute 2C:39-7 also makes it a crime for certain persons to have weapons. Thus, those convicted of aggravated assault, aggravated sexual assault, arson, bias intimidation, burglary, endangering child welfare, escape, extortion, homicide, kidnapping, robbery, sexual assault, or stalking may not have weapons, including firearms.

Other disqualifiers of firearm ownership to “certain persons” include being the subject of a domestic violence restraining order or firearm seizure under the PDVA; unlawful possession, distribution, or use of a controlled dangerous substance; and those with a history of confinement due to a mental disorder, unless evidence of recovery from a mental disorder satisfies a court that the individual is safe to handle a firearm. Getting caught falsifying a gun permit or FIPC, or having a juvenile record for certain offenses, being on a terrorist watchlist, committing a crime against a judicial officer, or qualifying as a public safety risk with a firearm disqualifies someone from gun ownership and possession also.

Possible Penalties for Firearm Possession Involving Domestic Violence

If convicted for violating N.J.S.A. 2C:39-7, a certain persons offense, a defendant in possession of a firearm faces a third-degree crime if they have a prior conviction of a disorderly persons offense involving domestic violence. And any person subject to a restraining order or convicted of a domestic violence offense who possesses a firearm is also guilty of a third-degree crime. Another third-degree crime occurs when an individual has a firearm after having their weapons seized pursuant to the PDVA. Third-degree criminal convictions come with maximum prison sentence of five years and a $15,000.00 fine.

However, anyone who commits a crime qualifying as domestic violence under the PDVA while possessing a gun, whether legally or illegally, may face charges for possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose. It is a second-degree crime to commit or attempt to commit a domestic violence crime while possessing a firearm, such as aggravated assault, burglary, homicide, kidnapping, robbery, aggravated sexual assault, terroristic threats, stalking, and domestic violence crimes. If convicted, the defendant faces five to ten years in state prison and up to $150, 000.00 in fines.

Contact an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Handling Domestic Violence, Weapons Offenses, and Restraining Orders in New Jersey

Using or having a gun while committing an act of domestic violence often leads to multiple charges. And since gun crimes are subject to the Graves Act, a defendant will serve a mandatory one-third to one-half of their sentence without parole eligibility. Given the severity of the consequences, an accused needs experienced legal counsel to help them successfully contest the charges and any related proceedings, such as a restraining order case. If you face gun charges in a domestic violence situation, a restraining order, a certain persons offense, weapons forfeiture proceedings, or another case involving the intersection of domestic violence and weapons, contact 973-524-7238 to speak with an attorney who can assist you immediately. We serve clients in Florham Park, Chatham, Parsippany, Denville, Morristown, Madison, Morris County and across New Jersey.