How Domestic Violence Blurs the Lines of Criminal and Civil Cases in New Jersey
Most people are vaguely aware that the criminal justice system is different from the court system that handles matters involving business disputes, evictions, or the collection of unpaid debts, all of which are examples of what are typically called “civil cases.” However, not everyone fully understands the difference between the criminal and the civil legal systems in New Jersey when it comes to your rights and proper procedure. These two areas of law can overlap in certain situations, such as domestic violence cases, and the lines between them can be confusing. This article examines some differences between criminal and civil cases and explains why your domestic violence case may mean you need to deal with proceedings in both the civil and criminal courts of New Jersey. If you would like to speak with an experienced attorney who handles both restraining orders in New Jersey Family Courts and criminal defense in criminal courts throughout the state, contact The Tormey Law Firm today at (201)-556-1570 or reach out online for a free consultation. With offices in Hackensack, Morristown, Newark, New Brunswick, and Middletown, we represent plaintiffs and defendants in domestic violence matters in virtually every county in New Jersey.
Why You May have to go to Family & Criminal Court for NJ Domestic Violence
Domestic violence can result in both civil and criminal proceedings in New Jersey. Under the Domestic Violence Act of 1991, you are entitled to file a civil complaint against someone for domestic violence, as well as a criminal complaint against the alleged abuser for any act that constitutes a predicate act of domestic violence.
Restraining Order is a Civil Order of Protection Issued in NJ Family Court
The civil complaint and proceedings are designed to protect alleged victims from further acts of domestic violence. In a civil case of any kind, a person, a business, or the government can sue another person, business, or, in some cases, another government entity. The person or business bringing the lawsuit is the plaintiff, and the person or business defending the lawsuit is called the defendant. You must ordinarily pay for an attorney in a civil case; you ordinarily do not have the right to have an attorney appointed for you free of cost. The loser of a civil lawsuit is not found guilty of a crime, but rather ordered to stop doing something or to do something (this is known as injunctive relief). They can also be ordered to pay the winning party damages, based on the negligent act, breach of contract, or other civil wrong that they committed.
A civil domestic violence case can result in the entry of a restraining order designed to keep the alleged abuser away from the alleged victim, typically through entry of a restraining order. The victim is the plaintiff in these proceedings, and the alleged abuser is the defendant. The defendant is not entitled to a free attorney in this situation. The civil component of a domestic violence case occurs in the Family Division of the Superior Court in the county where the restraining order was filed and the temporary restraining order was issued. If the victim successfully obtains a final restraining order, this is considered a permanent order of protection for the victim, but the defendant has not been convicted of a crime.
Domestic Violence is a Crime: Arrests for Acts of Domestic Violence in New Jersey
As most people are aware, in a criminal case, unlike in a civil case, a person called the defendant will have been charged with a criminal offense. Law enforcement agencies can sometimes pursue civil cases against a criminal, but these are typically called civil enforcement actions, not criminal actions. The government prosecutes the defendant in a criminal case. In a criminal case, the defendant has a right to a trial by jury, except in criminal matters adjudicated in municipal court. In a New Jersey domestic violence case in municipal court, such as cases involving harassment or simple assault, the defendant’s case is decided by a municipal court judge. A criminal defendant also has a right to a court-appointed lawyer if he cannot afford one, which is not true in civil cases. Criminal cases also require the prosecution to prove their case with evidence that establishes the defendant’s guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is just about the highest standard of proof required anywhere in the United States court system. Only a post-conviction proceeding known as writ of habeas corpus involves a higher standard of proof, requiring a defendant to prove their actual innocence.
The criminal complaint in a domestic violence case must be handled in a separate court where the charges were filed. Indictable offenses (aka felonies) are handled in the Superior Court, Criminal Division, while disorderly persons cases are heard and decided in the local municipal court. The alleged abuser is again known as the defendant in these proceedings, but he is entitled to have an attorney appointed to defend him free of charge. This free attorney is made available because domestic violence charges involve an accusation that the defendant has committed a crime against a spouse or other intimate relation. These crimes can include stalking, burglary, harassment, sexual assault, kidnapping, assault, false imprisonment, and other offenses. A conviction for one of these domestic violence offenses can result in years of prison time and thousands of dollars in fines for the accused. These crimes must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, a higher standard of proof than any applied in a civil domestic violence matter.
Need a Lawyer for Domestic Violence Court Case in NJ
There are many other differences between civil and criminal domestic violence proceedings. These proceedings can be complicated, with different evidentiary requirements and strategies that can be used to win. At this point, you know a domestic violence restraining order or conviction on a criminal charge can carry serious consequences for you or your family. If you are dealing with a domestic violence legal matter in New Jersey, it is highly important to contact an attorney before heading to criminal or family court. Whether you are the person seeking the order of protective or the one facing domestic violence allegations, a knowledgeable NJ Domestic Violence Attorney at our firm is here to help. We appear in courts in Bergen County, Morris County, Essex County, Passaic County, and throughout New Jersey every week on behalf of people involved with domestic violence legal issues. Call (201)-556-1570 today for a free consultation or schedule an appointment at the office nearest you.