domestic violence charges

Domestic violence is a serious allegation that can result in severe punishment. Fines, jail time, and court-ordered restraining orders are all potential outcomes of a domestic abuse case. Victims of domestic abuse can seek help from the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. If you are facing domestic violence charges, it’s important to understand the charges and to contact an attorney right away.

What Defines Domestic Abuse?

Domestic abuse charges can vary slightly from state to state, but the gist remains the same. In New Jersey, domestic violence can be classified as a specific sector of criminal offenses. 

Crimes that constitute domestic violence include:

  • Assault
  • Homicide
  • Physical threatening and harassment
  • Kidnapping
  • Restraint and false imprisonment
  • Sexual assault and criminal sexual contact
  • Burglary
  • Trespassing and stalking

These offenses are domestic abuse only when an adult or emancipated minor commits them against a defined domestic violence victim. Similar offenses committed by unemancipated minors do not legally classify as domestic violence in New Jersey. However, minors can face similar fines, imprisonments, and restraining orders for committing these acts.

What Defines Harassment?

New Jersey law defines harassment as an action taken with the intent of harassing, annoying, alarming, abusing, tormenting, or embarrassing another person. Such actions include:

  • Making obscene comments, requests, suggestions, or proposals
  • Threatening to physically harm or otherwise commit a felony against a person, their family, or their property
  • Knowingly falsifying reports of another person’s injury or death
  • Continuously making phone calls to a person anonymously or with the intent of hanging up/disengaging the connection
  • Sending repeated electronic communications with the intent to harass, annoy, alarm, torment, abuse, embarrass, or offend the recipient.

What Defines a Domestic Violence Victim?

Many of the offenses listed above constitute regular crimes that result in legal punishments. However, they are only defined as domestic violence if the victim falls under the official classification of a domestic violence victim.

New Jersey legally classifies a domestic violence victim as one who fits any of the following criteria (in relation to the charged):

  • An adult or emancipated minor who is a current or former spouse
  • An adult or emancipated minor who is a current or former household member
  • Any person who has a child or is expecting a child with the perpetrator, regardless of their age
  • Any person who has had a dating relationship with the perpetrator, regardless of age

Domestic abuse charges will only be filed if the victim fits any of these categories. Otherwise, the court of law will handle similar crimes.

When Do You Face Arrest for Domestic Violence Charges?

New Jersey law enforcement cannot arrest a suspect without reasonable cause. If officers receive a call about a possible domestic violence case, they will approach the scene and do a visual check and interview to assess the situation. You can only face arrest under the following conditions:

  • Someone is claiming to be the victim of domestic violence
  • Sufficient evidence is present to support the claim

During their assessment, an officer can make an arrest and/or sign a criminal complaint based on the evidence found and their belief that a crime was committed. However, law enforcement is not required to make an arrest unless one of the following circumstances exist:

  • Injuries are visible on the victim
  • The suspect already has a warrant out for their arrest
  • The suspect is already under a restraining order for domestic violence 
  • Use of a weapon in the domestic abuse crime
domestic violence charges
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How Courts Grant Restraining Orders

The main difference between a regular crime and a crime that falls under domestic abuse is the ordering of a restraining order. Victims of domestic violence may file to seek protection from the offender as ordered by a court of law. In order to protect a victim’s life, health, and general well-being, the court may issue an ex-parte domestic violence restraining order.

Courts can issue an ex-parte restraining order without the defense being present. In some emergency cases, the victim may not even need to be present for the application to go through. Restraining orders are based on testimony and evidence. Defendants don’t have to receive notification about the process until the court officially issues the restraining order.

How Restraining Orders Work

The court customizes emergency restraining orders for the individuals involved and the crime committed. An emergency order often includes the following restrictions:

  • Defendant cannot return to the scene of the domestic violence
  • Law enforcement can search for and seize weapons in suspect locations
  • Defendant cannot possess a firearm or legally-defined deadly weapon
  • Animals and minor children can be placed in safe possession

Once the court serves the defendant with the emergency restraining order, they will schedule a court hearing to determine the specifics of the case and settle on the finalized version of the restraining order. This restraining order serves for an extended period of time and can include the following conditions:

  • Defendant is prohibited from abusing the victim
  • Residence and child custody are granted to the plaintiff
  • Defendant is required to provide compensation to the plaintiff for losses
  • The defendant is required to seek counseling and/or a psychiatric examination
  • Defendant is prohibited from contacting the plaintiff or entering their place of residence, work, or school
  • The defendant is required to pay rent or mortgage for the plaintiff’s residence
  • Defendant is prohibited from possessing a firearm

Along with the restraining order, a defendant convicted of a domestic violence charge must pay a civil penalty between $50 and $500, unless doing so would cause severe financial hardship to the defendant.

Punishment for Violating a Restraining Order

Anyone found knowingly violating a domestic violence restraining order faces criminal contempt charges. This is a fourth-degree crime and can result in jail time of up to 18 months and/or a fine of up to $10000. Typically, first offenders just pay a fine. However, subsequent violations will result in a minimum of 30 days in prison.

Domestic Violence Charges Attorney

Domestic violence charges can result in hefty fines, jail time, and restraining orders. All of these can negatively affect one’s record and legal standing. If you are facing domestic abuse charges, contact Attorney Leon Matchin today at 732-887-2479, or email him at [email protected]. He will help you understand your rights and determine the best path moving forward in your case.