To obtain a temporary or final restraining order in New Jersey, one must prove certain grounds. One of these is to establish that a defendant committed predicate acts of violence. Predicate acts of violence aren’t necessarily confined to physical assault. It can also include things like stalking, harassment, false imprisonment, terrorist threats, lewdness, burglary, criminal trespass, cyberharassment, or any crimes that involve the risk of serious bodily injury or death.
Harassment is among the more common predicate acts of violence in New Jersey restraining order cases. As outlined in NJSA 2C:33-4, harassment encompasses a number of actions, including communications that are anonymous, occur at inconvenient hours, are offensively coarse or made in any manner likely to cause annoyance and alarm. Harassment is a criminal offense, but it’s also grounds for a temporary and/or permanent restraining order.
If you have been the subject of domestic violence or harassment and need assistance obtaining a temporary restraining order or a permanent restraining order, our Somerset domestic violence attorneys can help.
Arguing Predicate Acts of Harassment
In a recent case before the New Jersey Superior Court of Appeal, an ex-boyfriend appealed from a previous order granting his ex-girlfriend a final restraining order (FRO) under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 to -35.3. As spelled out in Court records, the pair dated for two years and lived together before breaking up in August 2017. A week after splitting, the plaintiff filed a domestic violence complaint and obtained a temporary restraining order (TRO) against her ex.
In seeking the TRO, she alleged he’d committed the predicate act of harassment. Namely, she said he’d called her more than 200 times, made her feel unsafe in her apartment and had previously been physically violent with her. She later alleged he’d committed criminal coercion by attempting to unlawfully restrict her freedom with threats. Specifically, she argued he’d left vulgar messages on hers and her mother’s voicemail, and broke into her apartment. He also allegedly threatened to distribute explicit photos and videos of her to her employer and/or friends and family if she didn’t resume her relationship with him.
As the lower and appellate Court noted, “He admitted later that he did do that, and told (her employer) about the video, which he believed would have violated her work rules and led to her termination. Those are acts of harassment.”
In obtaining a final restraining order, plaintiff argued he’d violated the terms of the restraining order.
Defendant appealed, arguing the trial Court was mistaken in finding he’d committed predicate acts of harassment and criminal coercion. The appellate Court wasn’t persuaded. It was noted that while the lower Court had not based its “predicate acts” finding on any allegation of assault, there was sufficient evidence of harassment and criminal coercion.
In determining whether an FRO is appropriate, New Jersey Courts will assess whether the plaintiff, by preponderance of credible evidence, has proven one or more of the predicate acts, as set forth in N.J.S.A. 2C:25-19[(a)]. Here, the ex-boyfriend not only threatened to send sexual material involving the plaintiff to other people, but actually called her employer intending to impact her employment. This is a clear act of harassment, as the Court noted. As the defendant’s predicate acts of harassment and criminal coercion were “amply supported by the record,” the final restraining order (FRO) was affirmed.
The main takeaway here is that it isn’t necessary to prove someone actually physically assaulted you in order to secure a temporary restraining order or a final restraining order in New Jersey. Prior acts of harassment and criminal coercion are sufficient.
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