There are numerous criminal acts addressed within the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, which,if proven,can form the basis for the entry of a domestic violence restraining order.The crime of harassment  is one.  It is defined by New Jersey law as being committed when a person, "with purpose to harass another," "[e]ngages in any other course of alarming conduct . . . with purpose to alarm or seriously annoy such other person."  The person must have a "conscious objective" to harass the victim.

Actually proving a purpose to harass, however, can be harder than it seems.  For instance, I recently tried a Final Restraining Order hearing where the husband/alleged abuser admitted to calling his wife dozens of times after she had fled the home and he had obtained a bogus temporary restraining order against her.  His defense?  I was just trying to "get her back because I love her."  Despite the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act requiring a broad interpretation of its terms to protect victims, the trial court dissolved the wife’s TRO against the husband, finding that the husband lacked a purpose to harass despite admitting to everything that she alleged.  This despite an also undisputed prior history of domestic violence.

It was this oftentimes difficult "purpose" requirement that was recently addressed by the Appellate Division in R.P. v. Somerset, where the Appellate Division reversed a trial court’s implementation of a Final Restraining Order because of a misinterpretation of the law.  The trial court held that a specific intent to harass was not necessary in proving that harassment occurred.  The Appellate Division disagreed and reversed, finding that the "purpose" is an integral part of proving a harassment claim.  In its conclusion, it also found that there was no evidence of a purpose in the case at issue, especially in light of a lack of prior domestic violence by the alleged abuser.  This despite the fact that the primary incident involved the alleged abuser/ex-girlfriend showing up at the ex-boyfriend’s home when he arrived with his new girlfriend, pulling the new girlfriend from the car and assaulting her. 

Purpose is critical.  So is filling out a domestic violence complaint with as much relevant detail as possible.  Any victim will surely be grilled on the contents of the complaint, especially if there is anything missing or contradictory from testimony given.  Including details as to current and past incidents is of great importance.  Also, considering how difficult it may be to prove harassment, it is also recommended to check off a claim for harassment on the complaint form, as well as any other claim that may be proven by your facts, such as stalking, assault, terroristic threats, etc. 

 

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