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Can Your Online Activity Lead to a Restraining Order?

In recent years our society has become more and more dependent on electronic communication. Long gone are the days of the telephone being utilized for primarily talking purposes and behold the days of putting everything in writing. As technology evolves, our laws evolve to accommodate the changes that have taken place since every person started carrying a computer in their pocket. In today’s world, we live “on-line”. We have access to an abundant amount of information at our fingertips and have unfettered broadcasting power – for better or worse.

Years ago I am sure people could not have imagined having a restraining order entered against them for something they posted on Facebook or Twitter. Today the foregoing actions have become a new form of domestic violence entitled “cyber-harassment”.

As with all laws, the law surrounding domestic violence in New Jersey are changing with society. In December of 2016, Governor Chris Christie signed a new bill which added a new predicate act to the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. Prior to December 2016, the following offenses constituted an act of domestic violence:

  1. Homicide
  2. Assault
  3. Terroristic threats
  4. Kidnapping
  5. Criminal Restraint
  6. False Imprisonment
  7. Criminal Mischief
  8. Criminal trespass
  9. Sexual assault
  10. Lewdness
  11. Criminal sexual contact
  12. Robbery
  13. Burglary
  14. Harassment
  15. Stalking
  16. Criminal Coercion
  17. Contempt of a domestic violence order
  18. Any other crime involving risk of death or serious bodily injury

Cyber-harassment has become the nineteenth predicate act added to the list. This means that if a person is found to have committed cyber-harassment, a Final Restraining Order may be entered against them.

Many people are going to be asking what is cyber-harassment? The New Jersey Criminal Code defines cyber-harassment in section N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4.1, a:

“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.”

In New Jersey, to qualify as an act of domestic violence and to obtain a restraining order, the victim and the Defendant must either be married (or formerly married/separated), living together, have a child together or be in a dating relationship / formerly engaged in a dating relationship. In addition to having a Final Restraining Order entered against you, criminal charges may be brought against you if you have been found to engage in cyber-harassment.

Remember that once you type something and hit send, you cannot take it back as it takes but a moment to capture a screenshot that will live forever. Even if you did not mean what you said or typed in haste during a moment of anger – the same can have permanent consequences on your life and the damage can be irreparable.

Whether you have filed a restraining order or have had one filed against you, the matter must be taken very seriously. In New Jersey, a final hearing takes place within 10 days of a temporary restraining order. With such a small window of time to prepare your case or your defense, you need an experienced New Jersey domestic violence attorney by your side to help you navigate this serious matter. If you feel that you are in need of a restraining order or have had one filed against you, do not hesitate to contact our New Jersey domestic violence attorney for a free consultation.

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