You had a terrible fight that turned physical and your wife got a restraining order against you. But things were settling down and she agreed to let you come over and get some of your belongings at the house. Before long, the two of you were arguing, and she called the police. Now, you have been charged with contempt for violating the restraining order. Situations like these happen on a regular basis across the state, leading to legal troubles for individuals from all walks of life. It may have even happened to you. Here is everything you need to know about restraining order violations in New Jersey.
Is Violating a Restraining Order a Crime in NJ?
A violation of a restraining order is considered criminal contempt. The punishment, however, depends on whether the violation of the restraining order is also a separate crime or a disorderly persons offense. If a separate crime, the violation is classified as a fourth degree crime, punishable by up to 18 months in prison and $10,000.00 in fines. If the violation is not a separate crime or offense, the violation is a disorderly persons offense, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000.00 fine.
So, for instance, if a husband violates a restraining order by stalking or harassing the protected person, the wife, the contempt is based on the additional crime of stalking or harassment, specifically listed in the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act as an indictable crime of domestic violence, and is therefore a fourth degree crime. Merely texting the wife, however, does not constitute a separate crime, so the husband would be charged with a disorderly persons offense. If a second offense, however, the violator is required to spend 30 days in jail after their immediate arrest.
Violating a protective order has serious consequences. So, how does one get a New Jersey protective order in the first place?
Anyone over 18 years of age or an emancipated minor, who has been a victim of one or more of the enumerated crimes listed in the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, may get a restraining order against an intimate partner, which includes a spouse, former spouse, date, former date, parent of the applicant’s child, or against a household member, by applying for one to the court. Upon review by a judge, if the application is approved, a temporary restraining order is granted. The order serves the purpose of forbidding the abuser to contact or come near the protected party and their household and workplace. It may also come with additional orders, such as child support, child custody, or financial support. Weapons confiscation is also required when a person is accused of domestic violence and facing a restraining order.
A temporary restraining order (TRO) is typically filed with a domestic violence complaint in the Superior Court, Family Division, nearest to where the act or acts of domestic violence allegedly occurred. A victim may file the complaint, with the assistance of court staff, or the police may file the complaint if called out to a domestic violence crime scene. The police may assist a victim with filing the complaint and TRO at the police station, also, and may file a criminal complaint against the alleged abuser. In this case, the police contact the closest municipal court judge to grant the TRO in person or over the phone. The victim may also file a criminal complaint in the Superior Court against the alleged abuser. The TRO application, however, is filed and heard in Family Court, typically on an emergency basis in absence of the person named as the defendant.
If only a temporary restraining order has been granted, can you still violate it in New Jersey?
You can violate any restraining order in New Jersey, regardless of whether it is temporary or permanent. If the TRO is granted, law enforcement serves the defendant with the order and notice to appear in court for the final hearing. They also confiscate the defendant’s firearms at that time, and, if the defendant resides with the victim, law enforcement makes the defendant leave the residence. A hearing for the final restraining order (FRO) is generally held within 10 days following the temporary order.
At that hearing, the applicant and the named defendant appear to present evidence to the court, including witnesses, as to why the order should or should not be final. The court must assess whether the parties are those qualified under the Act and if one of the crimes listed under the Act occurred and are likely to occur again. If granted, the final restraining order becomes permanent. The defendant’s photo and fingerprints then become part of the police database and the defendant is forbidden from owning a firearm. The FRO remains in effect until one of the parties returns to court to get the order dismissed, which is not easy. The court is critical of either party seeking to remove an existing restraining order. For this reason, the process of dissolving a restraining order is best handled by a knowledgeable attorney.
Unless a motion to vacate a restraining order has been granted, the person subject to the order must follow its rules or risk being charged with a violation.
Accused of a NJ Restraining Order Violation, What Should I do?
The consequences for violating a restraining order, whether it be a temporary order or a final protection order, are life-altering. In fact, criminal contempt conviction can potentially restrict your freedoms for life. If you have been accused of violating a restraining order in Mendham, Chatham, Madison, Morristown, Boonton, Rockaway, Mount Olive, or elsewhere in the Morris County area, contact an experienced lawyer now for a free consultation. We are highly familiar with criminal contempt in domestic violence matters, and we can help you defend your rights and protect your liberty.