Understanding the Restraining Order Enforcement Process in NJ
A restraining order is instrumental in protecting a victim of domestic violence. Civil and criminal laws protect those in a relationship that turns violent. While a protective order typically originates from the Family Part of the superior court, enforcement of a restraining order may be a criminal or civil matter. It depends on which part of the restraining order the defendant violates. To understand where to go to enforce a restraining order, you must understand which part is criminal and which is civil.
Steps for Victims to Enforce a Restraining Order in New Jersey
Victims who file protective order paperwork in court or at the police station often seek a temporary restraining order first. When temporary orders become final, the police register the defendant’s photograph and fingerprints into a domestic violence database. There, the police can access that information should the defendant violate a restraining order. Victims of domestic violence (Plaintiffs) may require restraining orders to keep defendants from contacting or injuring them.
If the Defendant Violates Part I of a Protection Order
Part I of a restraining order addresses the crucial protection the police enforce when a defendant contacts, harasses or otherwise harms a restraining order plaintiff. Thus, violating a restraining order, which is originally a civil matter, can result in a crime, which leads to a criminal matter. Criminal contempt occurs when a defendant breaks a court order (N.J.S.A. 2C:29-9). In fact, a defendant who violates Part I of a restraining order more than once may face a 30-day mandatory jail sentence. When a defendant violates a restraining order requiring them to stay away from the victim by contacting or harassing them, the victim can call the police, who will arrest the violator (N.J.S.A. 2C:25-31). Contacting a victim in person, by telephone, text, or email may be a restraining order violation that warrants an arrest and jail time, which is especially problematic if it is not the first violation.
Regardless of the part, violating any part of the restraining order is an offense. When a defendant intentionally violates a temporary or final restraining order term, they are guilty of a fourth-degree crime if the conduct constituting the violation is a crime or disorderly persons offense, according to N.J.S.A. 2C:29-9(b). Such conduct includes behavior that constitutes violations of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, such as sexual assault, harassment, lewdness, false imprisonment, and stalking, among others.
If the Defendant Violates Part II of an FRO
A restraining order’s second part concerns civil matters. Since judges customize restraining orders to the needs of the protected individual, they may order monetary support, visitation, health coverage, and property protection in Part II. Those matters are civil, so a violation requires a motion or order to show cause in the Family Part of the civil courts. For instance, if a court ordered the defendant to pay the victim’s medical bills resulting from the domestic violence as compensation, a plaintiff may enforce that order in the civil court. Other matters enforceable in civil court include child custodial arrangements orders, domestic violence counseling orders for the defendant, rent or mortgage payment orders, and temporary personal property possession orders.
To enforce Part II violations, the victim goes to the Family Part of the superior court during regular hours to apply to enforce the restraining order. As such, a victim can call the Family Court Domestic Violence Unit for Part II violations and the police for Part I violations. A Victim’s Advocate may help the victim fill out the appropriate paperwork. The victim may appear before the Child Support Hearing Officer if the issue is child support. Otherwise, the plaintiff goes before the judge that issued the restraining order.
The victim files an Order to Show Cause if the matter is urgent and needs emergency enforcement. Otherwise, the plaintiff files a motion, which the court regularly schedules with enough time for the victim to serve the moving papers on the defendant. A Part I violation is a matter for the police or prosecutor’s office, though the victim may choose to prosecute a violation in civil court, Family Part.
If you need further assistance to enforce a restraining order that has been violated, it is important to get knowledgeable legal counsel from a domestic violence and restraining order attorney who can discuss your unique case and walk you through the steps. Contact an attorney on our team for immediate assistance.
What Happens to the Defendant if the Victim is Enforcing a Restraining Order in NJ?
When the plaintiff files a complaint with the police department, the police may arrest the defendant. From there, the defendant appears in the criminal court for a bail review hearing within 24 to 48 hours of arrest. New Jersey’s Bail Reform Act requires a detention hearing for those arrested for domestic violence. A superior court criminal judge determines if the accused can leave jail to return for future hearings or remains in jail for a detention hearing. The probation department conducts a Public Safety Assessment before the detention hearing to calculate the risk of the defendant failing to return to court and to commit other offenses if released. The assessment determines if the defendant must stay incarcerated pending further hearings.
After release or incarceration, the defendant pleads guilty or not guilty to contempt charges, and the case proceeds to trial or resolves in a plea bargain. The defendant has the right to a speedy trial within 90 days. However, an initial review of the defendant’s case may find no contempt, though the defendant may still face criminal or disorderly persons offense charges in the superior or municipal court. When there are contempt and other offenses, the Family Part court may decide the other crimes if the court dismisses the contempt after a plea deal. The same court always handles contempt and other offenses.
If the defendant pleads guilty to contempt (and other charges), the judge immediately sentences them. Otherwise, they get a speedy trial. The sentence can be 18 months of incarceration and up to a $10,000.00 fine for a fourth-degree crime if the prosecutor charges the defendant with criminal contempt. And for a disorderly persons offense conviction or the first violation of a restraining order, the defendant typically faces up to six months in jail and a $1,000.00 fine. A second violation requires minimally 30 days in jail. For a conviction, the prosecutor must show the defendant knew of the order and deliberately violated it. Thus, a valid mistake may not qualify as contempt.
How can New Jersey Restraining Order Enforcement Lead to False Accusations?
Since a restraining order violation is easy to commit, enforcement is rife with abuse. For example, a victim may voluntarily meet with a defendant subject to a restraining order. They may intend to work things out, but the victim may claim the defendant violated the order when the meeting did not go as planned. A no contact order invites many opportunities to break it by accidentally running into the victim at a store if they live in the same town or by a simple text or email. When a defendant makes an honest mistake or accepts a victim’s invitation to meet, they need a criminal and domestic violence defense lawyer to fight contempt charges.
An attorney may present a defendant’s mistake to the judge or prosecutor to explain the restraining order violation. That may help in reaching a favorable plea with lessened consequences or an outright dismissal. An attorney may also negotiate reduced charges when other crimes or offenses accompany a restraining order violation. And if the contempt goes to trial, an attorney can discredit the victim’s evidence, such as witness and victim testimony or other evidence presented by the victim. When you face contempt charges in a domestic violence case, call on a criminal defense attorney familiar with domestic violence issues to challenge the charges from every available angle.
Need an Attorney for a Restraining Order Enforcement Case in NJ
To speak with an experienced domestic violence attorney at The Tormey Law Firm about how to enforce a restraining order in New Jersey, or how to handle a restraining order that is being enforced against you, contact (908)-336-5008 or reach out online to set up a free consultation.