NJ Law Adds Cyber-Harassment to Predicate Acts of Domestic Violence
Not only school children, social media friends, and perfect strangers on the internet allegedly commit cyber harassment. In fact, cyber harassment often comes into play in the domestic violence arena. When relationships go sour or one party is accused of abusing another in a marriage, oral threats and physical harm may also extend to written threats and harm over text or online sources. Crimes that support a domestic violence action and restraining order are listed in the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act and include harassment, assault, sexual assault, terroristic threats, kidnapping, false imprisonment, criminal restraint, burglary, lewdness, criminal mischief, and trespassing. Along with these, cyber-harassment will support a restraining order and domestic violence complaint.
As is the case with many areas of law, the legal doctrine on domestic violence in New Jersey is constantly evolving. In the most recent development, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed a new bill into law that adds cyber-harassment to the list of criminal acts that may constitute domestic violence.
On Monday, December 5, 2016, Governor Christie signed Bill A1946, amending New Jersey’s Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (“PDVA”). The Prevention of Domestic Violence Act has been amended numerous times since its enactment in 1991 to include additional offenses referred to as “predicate acts of domestic violence.”
Prior to the signing of this Bill, which takes effects immediately, there were 18 predicate acts of domestic violence in New Jersey, which include: homicide, assault, terroristic threats, kidnapping, criminal restraint, false imprisonment, sexual assault, criminal sexual contact, lewdness, criminal mischief, burglary, criminal trespass, harassment, stalking, criminal coercion, robbery, contempt of a domestic violence order, and any other crime involving risk of death or serious bodily injury.
Cyber-Harassment in New Jersey
Cyber-harassment represents the nineteenth predicate act, which means it may provide grounds for the issuance of a final restraining order when committed within the context of domestic violence. So, what is cyber-harassment under New Jersey law? The New Jersey Criminal Code defines cyber-harassment in section N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4.1, which states:
“A person is guilty of cyber-harassment if, while making a communication in an online capacity via any electronic device or through a social networking site and with the purpose to harass another, the person: (1) threatens to inflict injury or physical harm to any person or the property of any person; (2) knowingly sends, posts, comments, requests, suggests, or proposes any lewd, indecent, or obscene material to or about a person with the intent to emotionally harm a reasonable person or place a reasonable person in fear of physical or emotional harm to his person; or (3) threatens to commit any crime against the person or the person’s property.”
Relationships that Qualify if You have been Accused of Cyber Harassment and Domestic Violence
As mentioned previously, cyber-harassment may only provide grounds for a restraining order if the victim is protected under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. Otherwise, these offenses may result in criminal charges as opposed to restraining order proceedings. In order to be considered an act of domestic violence, the victim and the defendant must:
- Be currently or formerly married, or separated
- Be currently or formerly cohabitating (this can include romantic partners or platonic roommates)
- Share a child or be expecting a child together
- Be currently dating or formerly engaged in a romantic relationship
A victim of domestic violence must also be 18 or older or an emancipated minor. Under New Jersey law, an emancipated minor is a person under the age of 18 who has married, served in the military, had a child, been pregnant, or been declared legally independent by a court or administrative agency.
Proving Cyber-Harassment to get a Restraining Order
If you feel that you have been the victim of cyber-harassment, or you are facing a restraining order due to alleged cyber-harassment, there are other essential facts that you need to know. In addition to meeting the aforementioned relationship criteria, a judge must find that the following requirements are satisfied in order to issue a final restraining order in New Jersey:
- A predicate act of domestic violence must have occurred. This can refer to any of the 19 offenses above, now including cyber-harassment.
- A prior history of domestic violence between the parties must exist. In other words, did another act of domestic violence occur in the course of your relationship? Notably, this may simply refer to threats of violence, harassment, or another offense, and does not necessarily mean physical injury.
- The victim is in reasonable fear for their safety and a restraining order is necessary to ensure said safety.
To defend against a restraining order, the accused may counter with abusive emails, texts, direct messages, or social media posts by the alleged victim, or otherwise discredit the accuser by showing that the relationship has not been violent. Here is where a well-qualified restraining order defense attorney may challenge witnesses who testify on behalf of the alleged victim or otherwise challenge the evidence offered against the defendant. This is also true in cases wherein the accused is charged criminally for cyber-harassment, as you need someone who knows how to go toe-to-toe with the prosecutor.
When you are on either side of a restraining order case, the stakes are incredibly high. Under State law, a final restraining order hearing must occur within 10 days of the issuance of a temporary restraining order. With such limited time to construct your case, and such long-term implications, it is highly advisable to have a knowledgeable New Jersey domestic violence attorney protecting your interests.
Accused of Cyber Harassment in NJ? We can Help
Whether you have been accused of cyber harassment in a domestic violence restraining order action or in a criminal complaint, or both, you need the help of a lawyer who thoroughly understands the legalities of these cases and how to effectively defend you. With thousands of criminal and restraining order cases successfully handled by our attorneys, we know how to present your side of the story to a family court judge and criminal court jury. For additional information and a cost-free consultation, contact The Tormey Law Firm today at (201)-556-1570. With offices in Hackensack, Morristown, Newark, New Brunswick, and Middletown, we regularly appear on behalf of clients from Bergen to Morris, and Essex to Ocean counties.
For additional information pertaining to the expansion of New Jersey’s domestic violence law to include cyber harassment, access the following article: Chris Christie Signs 14 Bills Into Law, Vetoes Voting And Prison Legislation