In the recent published decision of Crespo v. Crespo (A-28-09, decided February 18, 2010), the New Jersey Supreme Court upheld in a 7-0 decision the constitutionality of New Jersey’s laws against domestic violence. The Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, N.J.S.A. 2C25-17 to -35, is the law that governs domestic violence cases arising in NJ. The act is found in section 2C of the New Jersey Statutes Annotated, which is the criminal section. Notwithstanding that domestic violence is found in the criminal section of the State’s statutes, the rights and procedures afforded those individuals who are accused of domestic violence are not the same as those afforded individuals accused of other crimes.
In Crespo v. Crespo, Mr. Crespo appealed the issuance of a domestic violence final restraining order (“FRO”) against him, alleging the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act violated his constitutional rights, including: (1) not being afforded certain procedural rights at trial – including no jury, a trial be held within 10 days, and limited discovery; (2) the preponderance of evidence standard was not the correct standard – it should require clear and convincing evidence; and (3) once a final restraining order was entered – seizure of his firearms violated his Second Amendment right to bear arms.
The Supreme Court, who issued a rather limited decision, instead relied upon the reasons expressed in the Appellate decision. Crespo v. Crespo, 408 N.J. Super. 25 (App. Div. 2009). In that decision, Judge Fisher addresses each of defendant’s arguments, finding that none of defendant’s constitutional rights have been violated. Judge Fisher’s decision found no merit in any of Mr. Crespo’s arguments. Although Judge Fisher did acknowledge that in certain circumstances a party may seek leave of the Court to obtain discovery prior to a final restraining order hearing. Depos v. Depos, 307 N.J. Super. 396, 400, 704 A.2d 1049 (Ch.Div.1997).
What is most interesting about Crespo v. Crespo is that the New Jersey Supreme Court did not have to grant certification from the Appellate Division – meaning the New Jersey Supreme Court did not have to hear the appeal. Yet, the New Jersey Supreme Court chose to hear the appeal and then simply affirmed Judge Fisher’s decision. This sends a clear message to domestic violence litigants and attorneys representing those individuals.