A New Jersey court case over the summer has apparently established a type of virtual dating that qualifies as a relationship and broadens the reach of New Jersey’s Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA).
In a case cited as C.C. v. J.A.H. to protect the alleged victim, the New Jersey Appellate Division decided that two people who had never dated nor had any kind of intimate contact – not even a kiss – had “a dating relationship” as defined by the PDVA because they had exchanged nearly 1,300 “highly personal and intimate text messages” over the course of several months.
The relationship eventually ended with the defendant sending the plaintiff messages that contained vulgar, insulting, and threatening language. That prompted the woman who received the messages to go to police and obtain a temporary restraining order (TRO). A trial judge later determined the texts constituted harassment and issued a final restraining order (FRO).
The appellate court’s decision denied defendant J.A.H.’s appeal and let stand the restraining order.
Could an angry text result in a restraining order against you? New Jersey’s Prevention of Domestic Violence Act was already considered to be a sweeping law that classified 19 criminal offenses as domestic violence if committing upon someone that the alleged perpetrator has or has had a relationship with. Now the law includes virtual relationships, apparently.
If you are the subject of a temporary restraining order or you are facing a domestic violence charge, turn to a knowledgeable domestic violence defense lawyer at the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall for help.
What Is the NJ Prevention of Domestic Violence Act?
In New Jersey, the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA) of 1991 (N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17) is the law that allows a person to obtain a restraining order against another person who they accuse of domestic violence. A restraining order is a court order that requires the recipient (defendant) to stop harassing, stalking or menacing the plaintiff. FRO’s typically restrict contact and communication between the two parties.
Under the PDVA, any one or more of 19 criminal offenses constitutes domestic violence, if committed against individuals who qualify as defendants under the Act:
- Terroristic threats
- Criminal restraint
- False imprisonment
- Sexual assault
- Criminal sexual contact
- Criminal mischief
- Criminal trespass
- Cyber harassment
- Criminal coercion
- Contempt of a domestic violence order
- Any crime involving risk of death or serious bodily injury.
The alleged victim of domestic violence must be 18 years old or older or be an emancipated minor and have had a specific relationship with the defendant, either at the time of the alleged offense or in the past.
Qualifying relationships are:
- Living together in the same household
- A person with whom the plaintiff has a child in common or anticipates having a child in common (i.e., an existing pregnancy)
- A person whom the plaintiff has dated.
A training manual for New Jersey police notes that, “The New Jersey law does not list any criteria by which an officer can determine what is and what is not a dating relationship. This provision should be liberally construed.”
In addition to seeking a restraining order, the plaintiff can file a criminal complaint arising from the same incident.
Under a restraining order, the defendant may be:
- Barred from the plaintiff’s residence, place of employment or other places
- Prohibited from having any oral, written, personal, or electronic form of contact or communication with the plaintiff or others (such as their children)
- Prohibited from making or causing anyone else to make harassing communications to the plaintiff or others
- Prohibited from stalking, following, or threatening to harm, stalk, or follow the plaintiff or others
- Prohibited from possessing weapons (this is mandatory)
- Ordered to pay child support, attend substance abuse counseling or other evaluations.
The plaintiff may be issued exclusive possession of the residence, temporary custody of children, support, medical coverage, payment for injuries, and other items.
Why Did New Jersey Adopt the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act?
In an unusual move, the New Jersey legislature adopted a statement about domestic violence as part of the law. It says in part:
The Legislature finds and declares that domestic violence is a serious crime against society; that there are thousands of persons in this State who are regularly beaten, tortured and in some cases even killed by their spouses or cohabitants; that a significant number of women who are assaulted are pregnant; that victims of domestic violence come from all social and economic backgrounds and ethnic groups; that there is a positive correlation between spousal abuse and child abuse; and that children, even when they are not themselves physically assaulted, suffer deep and lasting emotional effects from exposure to domestic violence. It is, therefore, the intent of the Legislature to assure the victims of domestic violence the maximum protection from abuse the law can provide. …
It is the intent of the Legislature to stress that the primary duty of a law enforcement officer when responding to a domestic violence call is to enforce the laws allegedly violated and to protect the victim. Further, it is the responsibility of the courts to protect victims of violence that occurs in a family or family-like setting. … It is further intended that the official response to domestic violence shall communicate the attitude that violent behavior will not be excused or tolerated and shall make clear the fact that the existing criminal laws and civil remedies created under this act will be enforced without regard to the fact that the violence grows out of a domestic situation.
In the training manual cited above, future police are advised that, “Law enforcement officers have an opportunity to stop the escalation of violence in the home. By enforcing the domestic violence laws, the officer provides the most effective deterrent to future abuse.”
In short, if a law enforcement officer responds to a domestic violence complaint, he or she does so with the mindset that they are to side with the person who has made the complaint. They are likely to make an arrest and, on their say-so alone, can get a judge to issue a temporary restraining order. If you have been arrested on a domestic assault charge or are the target of a domestic violence restraining order, you need a qualified defense attorney to stand up for you and protect your rights.
You must present a legal defense to keep a TRO from becoming a binding final restraining order at a hearing 10 days later.
Contact a NJ Domestic Violence Defense Attorney
If you are subject to a temporary restraining order issued in New Jersey, contact the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall for a free initial legal consultation. The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall include nine locations throughout New Jersey. You have only 10 days to prepare and make sure you are not subjected to severe restrictions on access to your property and movement allowed in a final restraining order. Call us now at (877) 450-8301.