NJ Domestic Violence Prevention Law Upheld by State Supreme Court, Police Allowed to Seize Firearms
The NJ Supreme Court handed down an important ruling that could have a huge effect on firearms ownership rights in New Jersey for a very long time. The case has drawn a lot of media coverage and garnered attention from legal experts because the court’s ruling was its first on firearms possession in 26 years. The state’s highest court, in a unanimous decision, held that the New Jersey domestic violence prevention law does not violate NJ residents’ Second Amendment rights to bear arms. The domestic violence prevention law specifically provides NJ law enforcement with the authority needed to confiscate weapons when an alleged domestic violence offender has been slapped with a temporary restraining order (TRO) or a final restraining order (FRO).
The domestic violence weapons case has been extremely contentious because it implicates the US Constitution: should alleged domestic violence offenders be stripped of their 2nd Amendment rights and be forced to forfeit their firearms. The debate was actually acknowledged by Associate Justice Lee Solomon in the decision he wrote for the New Jersey Supreme Court. Solomon said that this constitutional right to bear arms can be restricted because it is “subject to reasonable limitations.” Solomon emphasized that allowing police to seize firearms from domestic violence offender is a reasonable limitation because “the police power of the state provides our Legislature with the authority to regulate firearms.”
Domestic Violence Charges and Weapons Ownership Rights in Bergen County, NJ
The recent NJ Supreme Court ruling involved a defendant who had been accused of committing domestic violence against his wife in Morristown, NJ. The alleged victim in the case was able to obtain a restraining order, prompting law enforcement to seize the defendant’s firearms. Morris County NJ prosecutors specifically cited the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991 and argued that seizure of the defendant’s weapons was absolutely necessary because his “volatile marital history” indicated that he might pose a safety threat to his wife.
Two different lower courts in New Jersey ruled in favor of the defendant after finding that his ex-wife lacked credibility and that her claims of domestic violence may have been questionable. The courts further noted that the defendant’s constitutional right to bear arms was a more fundamental concern than any of his prior marital issues.
The NJ Supreme Court has now weighed in on the issue and overruled the lower courts. The court said that the former cop’s history of domestic violence, which included multiple domestic violence altercations with his ex-wife, created a safety risk for the victim and justified the seizure of his weapons.
Gun Crime Laws in New Jersey
New Jersey has some of the most strict handgun possession laws in the United States. Now the NJ Supreme Court has bolstered these tough gun crime laws by giving police the ammunition needed to seize firearms in domestic violence matters.
Until this most recent ruling, the New Jersey Supreme Court’s last ruling in a firearms possession case came in 1990, a full year before the state legislature passed the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. In the earlier gun possession case, the court said that two private detectives should not be allowed firearms permits. In the most recent case, the court relied on the NJ domestic violence prevention law to rule that the defendant, a former cop in Roseland NJ, could be forced to surrender his firearms and his firearms ID card as a result of a prior history of domestic violence. It is important to note that this latest ruling sets the bar very high for NJ residents because former police officers like the defendant generally get a great deal of latitude when it comes to weapons possession and gun ownership rights. In fact, ex-cops are among the only groups of people in New Jersey who have the ability to obtain concealed carry permits.
The NJ Prevention of Domestic Violence Act grants authority to state officials, including local police agencies, can seize deadly weapons from individual who may pose a risk to the “public health, safety, or welfare.” In certain domestic violence cases, victims could be seriously worried about threats from domestic violence offenders.
The Standard of Proof in New Jersey Domestic Violence Weapons Forfeiture Cases
NJ judges take the threat of violence in domestic violence cases very seriously. That’s why they won’t hesitate to rule that an alleged domestic violence offender ought to surrender their weapons in order to protect public safety. Ultimately, a New Jersey court must officially approve a request from a local police department to seize a domestic violence defendant’s handguns and other potentially dangerous weapons.
So what is the standard of proof utilized by NJ judges in these domestic violence weapons forfeiture cases? The standard of proof that judges rely on is a civil standard of “preponderance of the evidence,” which means that the threat of potential violence by an alleged domestic violence offender is more likely than not to result in actual violence. New Jersey judges at restraining order hearings use this same standard of proof. As a point of comparison, consider that the standard of proof in criminal cases is the much higher standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The Consequences of the NJ Supreme Court’s Ruling on Domestic Violence Firearms Rights
Almost immediately after the NJ Supreme Court issued its latest ruling on firearms ownership rights of alleged domestic violence offenders, a high-profile backer of the New Jersey domestic violence prevention law publicly spoke out in support of the decision. Nancy Erika Smith, a legal advocate for domestic violence victims in NJ and the founder of Newark-based Wynona’s House, said, “If you can’t control yourself, if you have to be violent to your own family, of course you shouldn’t have a gun.”
Meanwhile, Alexander Roubian, the president of the NJ Second Amendment Society, also supported the ruling. Roubian declared that domestic violence offenders with the potential to commit further violence should not be granted to access to dangerous weapons like firearms and handguns. Roubian also stated that “anybody who’s given due process and is guilty of domestic violence should not be allowed to own any type of weapon.”