What is Domestic Violence?
Domestic violence is commonly viewed as physical abuse committed by someone with whom the perpetrator has either currently or previously been in a relationship with, such as a spouse or former spouse, or parties who either presently have a child together or are expecting one.
New Jersey law, as detailed in the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA) of 1991, lists the specific criminal offenses that constitute domestic violence, which include:
- Terroristic threats
- Criminal restraint
- False imprisonment
- Sexual assault
- Criminal sexual contact
- Criminal mischief
- Criminal trespass
- Criminal coercion
An important distinguishing factor in a domestic violence case that differentiates the charges from other types of criminal cases is the relationship between the parties. The PDVA states the relationship must fall into the following categories:
- Previously or presently living together
- The parties have dated, have a child together, or are expecting
Gender is not a factor in the legal proceedings of domestic violence cases, and the defendant must be at least 18 years old or an emancipated minor. The PDVA considers a minor emancipated if he or she is or was married, has entered the military, has a child or is expecting, or if a court or administrative agency has previously declared the minor emancipated.
What are the Charges and Penalties for Domestic Violence?
There are numerous factors taken into account in determining whether a domestic violence charge is a misdemeanor or felony. Courts will examine prior offenses and the specific conduct involved to decide the severity of the potential punishment.
If the charge is a disorderly persons offense, which includes simple assault or harassment, it is likely the local municipal court will hear the case, with a potential conviction of up to six months in jail. Penalties could include anger management classes or probation.
Felony domestic violence charges may be filed in cases of possessing a weapon for unlawful purposes, sexual assault, or aggravated assault. Aggravated assault differs from simple assault in that the charge is upgraded in the case of serious bodily injury or in instances where a simple assault is committed with a deadly weapon.
Felony domestic violence charges can carry severe penalties depending on the degree of charge:
- Fourth-degree: up to 18 months in New Jersey State Prison
- Third-degree: 3 to 5 years
- Second-degree: 5 to 10 years
- First-degree: up to 20 years
A domestic violence charge can also prohibit firearm purchases. Someone who has been convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence crime — where the perpetrator used or attempted to use physical force or threatened the use of a deadly weapon against the victim — or has had a Final Restraining Order (FRO) issued against them, may be barred from purchasing a firearm under federal laws.
The victim can also sue for lost income, medical bills, suffering, and punitive damages, and the defendant could be ordered to pay attorney fees for the victim.
A restraining order is not automatically issued upon domestic violence charges, but the judge likely will issue a no-contact order that prevents the defendant from having any form of communication with the victim, including emails, texts, or even communication through a third party.
If a restraining order is obtained, it can prevent the defendant from visiting the victim’s home or place of employment. It is likely the initial restraining order will be temporary until a hearing is conducted, where the court will examine the specifics of the case and determine the possible need for an FRO.
An FRO results in documentation the defendant has committed a domestic violence act, which can affect employment and other professional opportunities. Though restraining orders are civil orders that do not directly punish the abuser with a criminal record, violating a restraining order can be considered criminal contempt, with additional violations serving as grounds for an automatic jail sentence.
Finding a Defense Attorney to Fight Domestic Violence Charges
Domestic violence charges can carry severe penalties that result in prison time or a restraining order that impacts daily life and opportunities. Courts take into account many factors in deciding the outcomes of domestic violence cases, and it is important to have an experienced legal team advocating for you that can reduce or eliminate charges.
If you or a family member have been charged with domestic violence, contact Rosenberg | Perry & Associates for a free consultation. We’ll learn about your case and explain how our team of experienced criminal defense attorneys can fight for you.