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Temporary Restraining Orders (“TRO”) and Final Restraining Orders (“FRO”) under New Jersey Law
The New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991 (the “Act”), NJSA 2C:25-17, et. seq., is an extremely powerful legal tool that protects victims of domestic violence in New Jersey. While the Domestic Violence Act provides a variety of protections for victims of domestic violence, the most powerful protection is the restraining order. In New Jersey, a victim of domestic violence must first secure a Temporary Restraining Order (“TRO”) and then, after a hearing, may secure a Final Restraining Order (“FRO”). While domestic violence is grounded in a criminal act, the actual restraining order is a civil vehicle issued by a New Jersey Superior Court Civil Judge, not a Criminal Judge. Violating any term of a TRO or a FRO, however, will subject the violator to a criminal contempt charge and possible jail time.
Jurisdiction for TROs and FROs in New Jersey
Securing a restraining order is a multi-step legal process that starts with jurisdiction. In order to be eligible to secure a restraining order in New Jersey an individual must qualify as a “victim of domestic violence.” Domestic violence in New Jersey means the occurrence of one or more of 19 “predicate acts” inflicted upon a person protected under the Act by an adult or an emancipated minor. The 19 Domestic Violence “predicate acts” are:
- Terroristic Threats;
- Criminal Restraint;
- False Imprisonment;
- Sexual Assault;
- Criminal Sexual Contact;
- Criminal Mischief;
- Criminal Trespass;
- Criminal Coercion;
- Contempt of a Domestic Violence Order;
- Any other crime involving risk of death or serious bodily injury;
- Cyber Harassment.
In order to qualify as a “victim” under the Act, a person must be 18 or older (or an emancipated minor) and must be subjected to domestic violence by a spouse, a former spouse, a current household member, or a former household member. Other situations which also qualify for treatment under the Act include a current dating relationship, a former dating relationship, or having a child in common with the alleged abuser.
Getting a TRO in New Jersey
A TRO is a temporary restraining order that provides protection to victims of domestic violence on a temporary basis until such time as a full hearing is held. TROs are generally issued on an “ex parte” basis. This means that there is no hearing. A Judge will listen to the victim and decide whether he/she qualifies under the Act for “temporary restraints.” The theory behind TROs is that victims are often in fear for their safety and need an immediate form of protection. Judges will issue the TRO and bar the alleged abuser from having any kind of contact with the “victim” until such time as a final restraining order hearing can be held. While TROs are by definition temporary, until such time as they are lifted, they have the same force and effect as a FRO.
Getting a FRO in New Jersey
In New Jersey, restraining orders are taken extremely seriously by law enforcement and by the courts. Final restraining order hearings, generally speaking, must be held within 30 days of issuance of the TRO. While there are exceptions to this rule, generally speaking, domestic violence restraining order cases are supposed to move in the courts within 30 days, if they don’t they are deemed to be “over goal” by the court system. This means that a lot of pressure is placed upon Judges overseeing restraining order matters to ensure that they are heard quickly.
The FRO hearing is actually a trial that proceeds much like any other trial in the New Jersey court system. Both the victim and the defendant can call witnesses and both are permitted the right to cross-examine witnesses. In addition, both sides can introduce evidence in the form of documents, text messages, emails, videos and other forms of physical evidence.
FRO hearings are bench trials. This means that a Superior Court Judge presides over the matter and acts as both Judge of the facts and Judge of the law. There are no juries in restraining order matters in New Jersey. Once the Judge hears all of the evidence the Judge decides whether to issue the FRO. If the Judge determines that: 1. there is jurisdiction for the restraining order; 2. that the defendant committed one of the 19 “predicate acts” of domestic violence listed above; and 3. that a restraining order is necessary to prevent future acts of domestic violence, then the Judge will issue the FRO. If the Judge finds that one or more of these conditions have not been met, then the Judge will deny the FRO and the TRO will be dismissed along with the temporary restraints associated with the TRO.
Consequences of a FRO in New Jersey
If the Judge issues the FRO, the defendant will be permanently barred from having any kind of contact with the victim as well as any other individuals the Judge believes need protection from the defendant. Many times these additional individuals are children that the parties have in common. The FRO will also usually permanently bar the defendant from the victim’s residence and workplace. In addition to these restraints, the FRO will require the defendant’s name to be placed in a domestic violence registry maintained by New Jersey’s Administrative Office of the Courts. A FRO also often requires a defendant to permanently surrender all firearms. The Court can impose additional restraints upon issuing a FRO including an award of attorney’s fees and costs as well as anger management and therapy specifically designed to address domestic violence. The above examples represent some of the more common examples of restraints imposed by the Court after issuing a FRO.
At Brickfield and Donahue we routinely prosecute and defend restraining order matters on behalf of both victims of Domestic Violence and on behalf of those accused of Domestic Violence. The law in New Jersey is very technical and the consequences can be dramatic. Call us for a free consultation at (201) 574-7919.