Stalking and the NJ Domestic Violence Statute
In New Jersey stalking is considered a crime under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Statute. Domestic violence is defined as the occurrence of certain acts inflicted upon a person by someone who is close to that person, such as a spouse, former spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend, or other members of your household. It applies equally to homosexual and heterosexual couples. The acts that constitute domestic violence include, but are not limited to: homicide, assault, criminal restraint, sexual assault, harassment, and stalking.Stalking Defined
The New Jersey statute defines stalking as “purposefully or knowingly engaging in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear for his safety or the safety of a third person or suffer other emotional distress.”
The phrase ‘course of conduct’ as used in the stalking definition means: repeatedly maintaining a visual or physical proximity to a person; using any means (including third parties or electronic devices) to follow, monitor, observe, servile, threaten, or communicate to or about, a person, or interfere with a person's property; or repeated harassment. The term ‘repeatedly’ as used in the definition means at least twice, and ‘cause a reasonable person to fear’ means that another reasonable person in the same situation would be fearful.
Following someone around, watching them from a nearby location, and intentionally showing up at locations that the stalker knows the person will be in order to watch that person are common examples of stalking.Degrees of the Crime of Stalking
Under the New Jersey Domestic Violence Statute, stalking is a crime of either the third or fourth degree. The definition used above is a crime of the fourth degree. A person may be convicted of stalking in the third degree –the more serious crime - if he stalks someone either a) in violation of an existing court order prohibiting him from the behavior, or b) if the crime is committed while in prison or on parole or probation.Permanent Restraining Orders
A person who has been stalked under the definition of the New Jersey domestic violence statute may be entitled to receive a permanent restraining order (PRO) against the stalker from a New Jersey court. A PRO is available only once someone has been convicted of stalking. A PRO will often forbid the stalker from entering the home, property, school or even place of work. The stalker will also be prevented from making contact with the victim, including communications through third parties, such as by their friends or family members.Punishment for Stalking
Stalking in the fourth degree is punishable by up to 18 months in prison, whereas stalking in the third degree is punishable by up to 5 years in prison. In addition to prison time, if the individual becomes subject to a PRO, this can have detrimental effects on their profession and their family life. A PRO can be a black mark on spouses in a dissolution proceeding. It could also lead to difficult in obtaining positions in law enforcement or the judiciary.Electronic Stalking
Stalking is most readily understood as when a person follows or watches another person, but modern technology creates new ways for stalking to take place. For example, using a GPS tracking device to find out the whereabouts of a former spouse has been found to be “stalking” under the statute. In L.A.V.H v. R.J.V.H., the court held that the former husband’s actions met the definition of “stalking” when he attached a GPS device on both his ex-wife’s vehicle and her new boyfriend’s vehicle. The court entered a restraining order as a result.
Domestic violence cases are very serious and complex. If you need help with a domestic violence case, call the Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen at (201) 845-7400 for a free consultation.Sources
New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991
N.J.S.A. 2C:12-10, 10.1, 10.2
L.A.V.H. v. R.J.V.H., No. A-6292-09T4 (N.J. Super. 2011).