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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Domestic Violence in New Jersey

NJ Domestic Violence FAQ

A domestic violence case can turn your life upside-down, posing more questions than answers and leaving you feeling lost and alone. First and foremost, you are not alone. The attorneys at Proetta & Oliver have the experience, drive, and fundamental understanding of the nuances of criminal procedure and restraining orders in New Jersey domestic violence matters, and we can help. If you would like to consult an attorney regarding your domestic violence case immediately, simply call our office in Jersey City at (201) 793-8018 or contact us online. The consultation is free and confidential, so please do not hesitate to get further legal counsel by contacting our firm today. Beyond that, get started with improving your understanding of domestic violence in New Jersey. Here are answers to some of the most frequently-asked questions about NJ domestic violence.

What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence is repeated abuse or several instances of abuse, whether it is physical, emotional, psychological, or sexual. Typically, it involves an abuser who attempts to control another by threats of violence, physical violence, or verbal assaults. And the victim is a person intimately involved with them, whether that be a spouse, significant other, dating partner, family member, or ex-spouse. Abuse may also be financially depriving a victim of necessities or isolating them from outside social contact.

What constitutes domestic violence legally in NJ?

The Prevention of Domestic Violetnce Act of 1991 enumerates particular crimes that constitute domestic violence, such as homicide, stalking, sexual assault, criminal restraint, lewdness, kidnapping, false imprisonment, simple or aggravated assault, and harassment, to name a few. The commission of one or more of these acts on a victim is considered domestic violence.

Who are considered domestic violence victims?

Besides being in an intimate relationship with an abusive spouse, ex-spouse, dating interest, or partner, a victim is a person over 18 or an emancipated minor who may also be a previous or current member of the person accused’s household, and regardless of age, the parent or future parent of a child of the accused. Suffering abuse while in any of these relationships qualifies one as a domestic violence victim.

How can the law protect a domestic violence victim?

If you are a victim of domestic violence, you have legal recourse through the criminal and civil courts. You can first file a domestic violence complaint in the family division of the civil courts to protect yourself. You can also file a criminal complaint against a perpetrator of domestic abuse, which results in criminal prosecution and potential punishments through the criminal courts.

What is a restraining order?

To protect a domestic violence victim from further abuse, a judge can order a temporary restraining order (TRO) which serves as an interim court order before the final hearing on the matter occurs. Often, the victim requests a protective order along with the domestic violence complaint. If granted, the TRO and then potentially the final restraining order (FRO), orders the defendant to stay away from the victim and their friends and family, wherever they are, whether that is at their shared residence, the victim’s work, or their children’s schools. In addition, the restraining order may give custody of the children and exclusive possession of the shared residence to the victim, as well as order the defendant to pay support. A protective order also bars the defendant from having firearms, which often leads to seizure of weapons in domestic violence cases.

How can a domestic violence victim get a TRO?

By going to the Family division of the Superior Court during regular court hours, or police station or the municipal court after hours, a victim of domestic violence can get a TRO. When the judge reviews their complaint and petition for a TRO, they will grant it if the court believes they are in danger of future domestic violence and need immediate protection. A hearing which can lead the judge to finalize the TRO into a permanent order or Final Restraining Order (FRO) occurs ten days after the judge issues the TRO. Read the following article which explains more about the process if you need to file a restraining order in Hudson County.

How do the police handle reports of domestic violence?

When the police come out to a domestic violence scene, they assess whether domestic violence has occurred. If the victim is clearly injured or they believe a suspected individual committed domestic violence with a weapon, the police must make an arrest. Further, if there is an existing restraining order between the parties, the police arrest the person subject to the order for contempt of a court order, in addition to any other domestic violence charges for which they are suspected. The police also inform domestic violence victims of their right to seek a protective order; they may even help the victim fill out the paperwork and get their paperwork to municipal court if the incident occurred after court hours.

How long will a person arrested for domestic violence spend in jail?

After an arrest, a judge decides whether the defendant is released on their own recognizance, subject to conditions upon release, and ordered to return to court for their next hearing, or stays in jail until the next hearing or longer. To decide, a court considers whether the defendant is a flight risk or likely to return to court, a danger to the alleged victim or the community at large, or likely to obstruct the justice process. However, a release may come with specific orders that are meant to ensure the defendant will return, such as requiring the defendant to check in with law enforcement periodically or to remain employed. They may also restrict the defendant’s social life and daily habits, like drinking alcohol, to reduce the chances of missed court dates. If you have a detention hearing for domestic violence, it is absolutely vital that you have skilled representation from a criminal defense lawyer who can argue for your release. Otherwise, you risk being deemed a risk of harm to the alleged victim and kept in jail until the case’s conclusion.

If the restraining order becomes permanent, how long will the protective order last?

An FRO lasts indefinitely or until one party asks a court to terminate the order and such a motion to vacate the restraining order is granted.

What happens if the restrained party violates the TRO?

A violation of a restraining order results in a charges for criminal contempt, which could lead to 18 months in prison and a $10,000.00 fine. Violating a restraining order is a fourth degree crime if the behavior that violated the order is considered a criminal offense. If it is not, then a contempt charge is a disorderly persons offense which could result in a $1,000 fine plus up to 6 months in jail.

What happens if the parties to the restraining order want to reconcile?

While the court order is in place, it is a violation of the restraining order for the defendant to have any contact with the victim or any other protected person included in the order. To remove or dissolve the restraining order, one of the parties must make a motion to the court to terminate the order. The burden is on the person making the motion to prove that the order is no longer needed, meaning the restrained party is no longer a threat to the victim and the protection is no longer necessary. A restraining order can also be removed is the protected party wishes, of their own free will, to have the order terminated. But a judge may deny the motion if they feel the order is still necessary. If you wish to vacate a restraining order, this is a complicated process best handled by a lawyer who handles these types of cases and can position you for a favorable result.

What is the penalty for a domestic violence conviction?

The sentence for domestic violence depends on the nature of the underlying crime and whether the defendant has been charged with and convicted for committing a fourth, third, second, or first degree crime, or a disorderly persons offense. For example, sexual assault is a second degree crime with a potential 10-year prison sentence, while lewdness is usually a disorderly persons offense with a maximum six months in jail. Similarly, simple assault is a disorderly persons charge, while an aggravated assault charge can be anywhere from a fourth degree to a second degree. Criminal convictions remain part of the convicted individual’s criminal record.

How can an attorney help me if I’m accused of domestic violence?

An attorney who handles domestic violence cases can help you from the time you are arrested to the conclusion of your case. If you have been detained, an attorney at our firm can argue that you are not a flight risk and so should be released from jail during the legal proceedings. We can also appear at the final restraining order hearing to help you by presenting evidence that challenges the victim’s presentation of the facts. Depending on the case and situation, we may be able to prove the domestic violence accusation is false, that the alleged victim is not telling the true version of events, or because you were actually acting in self-defense, for example.

Also, our lawyers may discredit the testimony of witnesses at the final restraining order hearing or challenge the police arrest in your criminal domestic violence case as improper, among other legal challenges that can be used to get the charges dropped. We may also help you handle the criminal case by securing a plea bargain to lesser charges or a lesser sentence than the prosecutor recommends. Without an attorney, you must face the prosecutor alone, without the benefit of legal experience and an effective defense strategy. When you reputation, your family life, and so much more is on the line, it is important to have an advocate on your side.

If you have additional questions about a domestic violence matter that you or someone you love is currently dealing with, contact our attorneys 24/7 at (201) 793-8018. We represent clients in all Hudson County towns and cities, and appear in courts across the state of New Jersey defending those accused of domestic violence and facing restraining orders. Request a free consultation online or call us to have your free lawyer consultation today.