In New Jersey, committing domestic violence can result in time behind bars, a restraining order, and hundreds of dollars in fines. Read below to find out about NJ domestic violence laws and the punishment for violating them.
New Jersey punishes as domestic violence certain types of crimes committed by an adult (or emancipated minor) against anyone considered a "domestic violence victim." The crimes that can qualify as domestic violence include:
A domestic violence victim includes:
(N.J. Rev. Stat. § 2C:25-19 (2023).)
Under New Jersey law, officers must make an arrest and sign a criminal complaint when (1) someone claims they're a victim of domestic violence by the suspected person, (2) the officer has sufficient evidence to believe that the DV occurred, and (3) one of the following circumstances applies:
An officer can (but doesn't have to) make an arrest or sign a criminal complaint when there's sufficient evidence to believe that the person committed domestic violence but none of the other conditions listed above exist.
If two people show signs of physical injury and both claim to be the victim of domestic violence, the officer must identify which person is the aggressor. To make that determination, the officer will consider the injuries of each person, the history of domestic violence between them, and any other relevant factors.
(N.J. Rev. Stat. § 2C:25-21 (2023).)
A victim of domestic violence can file a complaint seeking protection from the alleged abuser. A judge can grant temporary restraining order (TRO) if it's necessary to protect the victim. A TRO can include many provisions, including:
The police serve the accused with a copy of the TRO, and within 10 days, there will be a hearing for a final restraining order (FRO). If the judge thinks there are grounds to believe the allegations, the judge will issue a FRO containing provisions in addition to those in the TRO. Some of these provisions might :
The court will also order a mandatory fine of at least $50, and up to $500.
A person who knowingly violates a domestic violence restraining order is guilty of criminal contempt, a crime in the fourth degree, unless the violated provision pertains to counseling, parenting time, monetary compensation, rent or mortgage payments, or the surrendering of specified property to the victim. Typically, the type of violation that's a crime is committing further abuse or harassment, or violating the no-contact and stay-away provisions.
(N.J. Rev. Stat. §§ 2C:25-28, 2C:25-29, 2C:25-30, 2C:25-31, 2C:29-9 (2023).)
The punishment for a domestic violence offense will depend on the type of crime that was committed. For example, a crime like sexual assault will be punished more harshly than something like harassment.
A very low-level "petty disorderly persons" offense normally will be punished as a misdemeanor, but more serious offenses are often punished as a felony (called an "indictable offense" in NJ). Also, having prior domestic violence convictions, or committing a new offense while subject to a DV restraining order, can make the crime more serious and the penalty harsher.
Certain first-time offenders might be eligible for diversion, and in some cases, the court could grant probation.
In addition to being sentenced on the offense committed, the person will have to pay a DV fine and relinquish any firearms.
See these articles on misdemeanor and felony crimes in New Jersey for more specific information about sentencing in NJ.
In any criminal case, including domestic violence cases, some general defenses might apply, depending on the circumstances. Self-defense and accident (no intent) aren't uncommon in domestic violence cases. Also, sometimes a defendant can show that the accusations are false because the victim had it out for the defendant or lied for other reasons.
A domestic violence conviction can have very serious consequences, including time behind bars, a substantial fine, and a serious criminal record. If you're charged with DV, or you've received a restraining order, you should contact a New Jersey criminal defense attorney. An experienced attorney should be able to tell you how your case is likely to fare in court based on the facts of your case, and can help you mount the strongest possible defense. They should also have a good idea of whether dismissal, diversion, probation, or a plea deal is possible.