The times, they are a’changing – at least when it comes to how the judicial system approaches harassment as an act of domestic violence in light of advanced technology used for communication. In the newly reported (precedential) Appellate Division decision of L.M.F. v. J.A.F., Jr., the Court addressed the use of electronic communications, specifically text messages, as a form of harassment. Those claiming an act of harassment based on electronic communications might not like what the Appellate Division had to say, as detailed further below, but the decision provides a breadth of noteworthy language in shaping what is an extremely sound, rationale and common sense methodology to approach such cases in the future.
As a refresher, harassment is defined by New Jersey statute as follows:
[A] person commits a petty disorderly persons offense if, with purpose to harass another, he:
a. Makes, or causes to be made, a communication or communications anonymously or at extremely inconvenient hours, or in offensively coarse language, or any other manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm;
b. Subjects another to striking, kicking, shoving, or other offensive touching, or threatens to do so; or
c. Engages in any other course of alarming conduct or of repeatedly committed acts with purpose to alarm or seriously annoy such other person.
Addressing the struggles faced by courts in addressing harassment as an act of domestic violence, the Appellate Division noted
The facts presented here exemplify the complexity of human interactions and the strain they place on the Family Part judges as they struggle to distinguish between the cases that merit judicial intervention and those that do not.
Further addressing such difficulties in the context of modern technology and the facts at issue, the Court first provided an online definition of “texting” from www.netlingo.com as:
[t]he act of typing and sending a brief, electronic message (less than 160 characters) via a wireless network to another person so that they can view the short message on any number of mobile or handheld devices.