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Destruction of Property in a Domestic Violence Case

Damaging or Destroying Another’s Property in New Jersey: Is it Domestic Violence?

Yes. As recognized by the laws in New Jersey, physical violence is not all there is to intimate abuse. A spouse, ex-spouse, lover, sibling, housemate, or another person in a specific type of close relationship, may commit domestic violence against a victim by destroying their belongings or their home. Victims of this type of abuse, criminalized as an act called criminal mischief, may still seek protection under the law. Since criminal mischief is one of the crimes constituting domestic violence under New Jersey’s Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, one who terrorizes another by destroying their belongings or shelter may be criminally prosecuted and legally restrained from all interaction with the victim.

Does Property Destruction Allow for a Restraining Order?

If the two people involved meet the qualifications for a domestic violence relationship, then intentionally damaging another’s property, whether the property belongs to the victim or both the victim and the perpetrator, is grounds for a restraining order. Thus, a spouse who takes a baseball bat to the family car or breaks a door in a jointly owned residence may be found guilty of criminal mischief in criminal court, and subject to a restraining order in family court. It is unnecessary that the guilty party destroys property belonging exclusively to the victim, nor is it essential for someone to be physically injured to get a restraining order against the party destroying property. New Jersey case law supports restraining orders for those whose personal or real property falls victim to violence. Even those who share a home and its contents can get protection when one of the homeowners deliberately destroys the house or items in it.

Confirming Case Examples

Damaging Property for TRO, FRO, Domestic Violence in NJIn order to further understand and confirm that property destruction is considered an act of domestic violence, it is helpful to look at a previous case. In H.C.F. v. J.T.B (A-5618-14T3 (App. Div. Sept. 7, 2017), the Appellate Court clarified that jointly owned property belongs to both the plaintiff and the defendant. Thus, if one of the joint owners destroys a portion of the property, they also damage the other owner’s property interest. In the case before the Appellate Court, one spouse punched in the door to the other’s spouse’s room. Since the court determined the defendant intentionally damaged joint property, the court affirmed the lower court’s granting a final restraining order based on criminal mischief.

The H.C.F. court panel relied on another Appellate case decision to make its ruling, N.T.B. v. D.D.B., 442 N.J. Super. 205, 222 (App. Div. 2015). Faced with a similar situation and set of circumstances, the court also affirmed the lower court’s granting a temporary restraining order based on destruction of property. In that case, one spouse destroyed the other’s speakers and bedroom door on two separate occasions in a home they both owned. Both cases clarify that destroying another’s property includes joint property interests for purposes of seeking protection as a victim of domestic violence.

Types of Damaged Property that Qualify

For the purposes of the criminal offense and the restraining order, purposely or recklessly damaging another’s property by any means, physical strength, fire, or explosives qualifies. And as case law shows, the property can be any tangible property. Property includes personal property, like audio speakers, real property fixtures, including doors, or real property, as in the case of burning down a house. It can also include retaliatory acts. Thus, a person who keys the car or punctures the tires of the one who breaks up with them can be held responsible and punished, along with restrained, under the law.

Does the Amount of Property Damage Matter?

When it comes to criminal charges for damaging or destroying property, the amount of destruction does not determine the crime, just the punishment. Specifically the penalties worsen as the amount of property damage increases. The value of the property, and the extent to which it was damaged, can drastically impact whether a defendant is charged with a disorderly persons offense or an indictable crime. It can also mean the difference between facing years of state prison time or a few-month stint in the county jail. However, the penalties for the crime are just one set of problems for a convicted defendant. The other problem is the restraining order.

Remember, however, that the act of damaging or destroying property the only thing that matters when it comes to meeting one of the necessary requirements for a restraining order. Once the plaintiff establishes that the domestic violence relationship exists, their next prong to satisfy is that an act of domestic violence occurred. The law does not require an extensive amount of property damage, nor does it consider the cost of the repair or replacement, when considering the issuance of a TRO or FRO. All it takes is one phone thrown out the car window, one broken door, or one damaged speaker. Obviously, the worse the damage, the worse the defendant appears when the judge is considering all of the facts of the case. If the plaintiff can show that domestic violence events have occurred between themself and the defendant in the past, then they need to show that they are reasonably afraid for their own safety.

Someone got a Restraining Order Against You Based on Destruction of Property, What does it Mean for Your Life?

Since a victim may get a restraining order for violent acts against tangible property, the restrained party must stay away from the protected plaintiff named in the order. A judge may also order them to pay restitution for the damages they created and surrender any firearms they have. And if they violate the order by contacting the plaintiff, they risk more court hearings and jail for being in contempt of court. Finally, and most importantly, the restraining order is in effect potentially for the life of the parties. That means the defendant can never communicate with the plaintiff or risk violating the order and resulting consequences.

The defendant can attempt to terminate the order, but it is not easy to do without convincing proof that the order is no longer necessary. When seeking to remove a restraining order, you are best served by having a lawyer handling this for you. And not just any lawyer; you want one who assists with getting restraining orders terminated on a regular basis, such as those at The Tormey Law Firm.

Better yet, you may be able to avoid the permanent restraining order in the first place. The benefits of an attorney who can challenge the plaintiff’s request for a restraining order by showing it is unnecessary or untrue are invaluable. Ideally, you can disprove the allegations in both a criminal and a restraining order trial. Our legal team handles both cases, with a thorough knowledge of domestic violence law in its many manifestations and in the various court venues where these cases play out with broad implications for everyone involved.

Accused of Property Destruction and Domestic Violence in NJ? Call Now

With possible imprisonment, enormous fines, and a permanent restraining order, a convicted defendant stands to lose a lot, indefinitely. If you have been accused of causing property damage in a domestic violence incident in New Jersey, be sure to speak to a highly qualified attorney at The Tormey Law Firm regarding your restraining order and/or criminal matter. Call (201)-556-1570 to have a conversation about your case with a domestic violence lawyer free of charge. You can also begin your conversation online, and there is no time like the present when it comes to your top defense.

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