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What Happens if I Violate a Restraining Order?

Posted on: January 21, 2021

Violation of a restraining order is considered contempt of court, a criminal offense in New Jersey. Depending on the circumstances of the case, violating a restraining order is punishable by jail time, fines, and/or a criminal record indicating conviction. However, those who are accused of violating a restraining order may be able to avoid or minimize these legal consequences with the help of an experienced criminal defense lawyer.

Types of Restraining Orders in New Jersey

A restraining order is a court order prohibiting contact between two people based on an allegation of domestic violence. There are two main types of restraining orders in New Jersey:

Temporary restraining order (TRO). This type of restraining order is meant to temporarily protect a victim of domestic violence from his or her alleged abuser until the court can schedule a final hearing on the matter. Anyone who has been the victim of domestic violence may file a civil complaint under the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991.

Under this state law, domestic violence acts include any crime involving risk of death or serious bodily injury to someone who has a dating relationship with, has a child in common with, or is pregnant and anticipates having a child in common with the alleged offender. The New Jersey Department of Law & Public Safety defines domestic violence as a pattern of physical, emotional, verbal, and sexual abuse that may include threats, intimidation, isolation, and financial control.

Once the accuser makes a complaint and requests a TRO, the case will be heard as soon as possible to determine whether the protective order should be granted. If a judge grants the TRO, the defendant must be served with the order, along with the notice of the final hearing, which will typically be scheduled within 10 days.

Final restraining order (FRO). Both parties will have a chance to testify and present their case to the judge at the FRO hearing. The accuser must establish each element of his or her case by a preponderance of the evidence, including that there was a predicate act of domestic violence, that the defendant has a history of domestic violence, and that a restraining order is necessary for the accuser’s protection. At this hearing, the accuser may present evidence such as text messages, emails, photographs, and police reports.

If the judge grants a FRO, the person being restrained is prohibited from having any further contact with the accuser, as well as other restrictions. This can mean that the person being restrained may not do the following:

  • Come within a certain distance of the accuser
  • Have contact, whether in person, via telephone, or in writing, with the accuser’s relatives
  • Return to the scene of the alleged domestic violence
  • Visit the accuser’s work, school, home, or other places he or she frequents
  • Own any firearms or weapons
  • Harass the accuser directly or cause anyone else to harass the accuser
  • Commit any future acts of domestic violence
  • Continue to live in the residence shared with the accuser
  • Have custody of children in common
  • Violate any other conditions imposed by the judge

Restraining orders may also address other issues, such as who will receive temporary custody of the children, whether the parties will be ordered to attend professional counseling, and who will be responsible for the parties’ financial obligations, including mortgage or rent. In New Jersey, FROs do not expire; therefore, once the order has been entered, it will remain in place until one of the parties petitions the court to lift or modify it.

What are the Consequences of Violating a Restraining Order in New Jersey?

New Jersey courts take restraining order violations seriously. Someone who violates a temporary or final restraining order may face various penalties ranging in severity, depending on whether he or she committed any other offenses in doing so.   

Disorderly persons offense. In New Jersey, crimes are not categorized as felonies and misdemeanors, but rather as indictable crimes, namely petty disorderly persons and disorderly persons offenses. Petty disorderly offenses are the lesser of the two crimes, punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $500.

Someone who violates a restraining order without committing another crime may be convicted of a disorderly persons offense, which is also punishable by up to six months in jail but may result in a fine of up to $10,000. The New Jersey statute also sets forth a minimum sentence of no less than 30 days for any person convicted of a second or subsequent nonindictable domestic violence contempt offense.

However, if a defendant violates a restraining order by committing certain crimes, he or she may be charged with a fourth-degree felony. A fourth-degree crime is punishable by up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine. Under New Jersey law, those crimes include the following:

  • Assault
  • Burglary
  • Contempt
  • Criminal coercion
  • Criminal mischief
  • Criminal restraint
  • Criminal sexual contact
  • Criminal trespass
  • Cyber-harassment
  • False imprisonment
  • Harassment
  • Homicide
  • Kidnapping
  • Lewdness
  • Robbery
  • Sexual assault
  • Stalking
  • Terroristic threats

Can Violating a Restraining Order Have Additional Repercussions?

Restraining orders typically do not show up on criminal background checks because they are civil in nature. However, restraining order records, both TROs and FROs, may be found by conducting a search in the Domestic Violence Central Registry. Therefore, although it will not appear on a standard background check, the restraining order may affect the restrained party’s career if an employer chooses to conduct such a search.

On the other hand, violation of a restraining order, which is a criminal offense, will show up on a criminal background check. Those who have professional licenses such as nurses, lawyers, and stockbrokers may lose their license if an employer sees the record of a restraining order violation. Violating the terms of a restraining order in New Jersey may have other consequences as well, such as the following:

  • Potentially not being granted security clearance for national security positions
  • Possible denial of a green card or citizenship application and/or deportation
  • Possibly being denied a lease
  • Not being able to own or possess a firearm

What are the Defenses to Violating a Restraining Order?

There are several ways to defend against restraining order violation charges. To convict a defendant of violating a protective order, the prosecutor must prove that there was a valid protective order in place, that the defendant had knowledge of the protective order, and the defendant intentionally violated the terms of the order. Therefore, a criminal defense lawyer may be able to help in asserting one or more of these defenses:

  • The defendant was not properly notified of the restraining order. Defendants must be notified of a TRO or FRO. If the defendant has not been properly served, the charges may be dismissed. For example, this legal defense may apply if the violation occurred just after the order was entered and before the defendant was served.
  • The alleged violation did not occur. If the defendant was falsely accused, he or she may be able to have the charges dismissed. Therefore, to avoid restraining order violation charges, a defendant may prove that the alleged victim was lying about the alleged violation.
  • The defendant did not intend to violate the order. To convict a defendant of violating a restraining order, the prosecution must show that the defendant intentionally violated the order. Therefore, even if the defendant had knowledge of the order, he or she may avoid conviction if the violation was accidental, such as running into the accuser at the grocery store unintentionally.

New Jersey Criminal Defense Lawyers at Ellis Law Fight Restraining Order Violation Charges

If you have been accused of violating a restraining order, contact the New Jersey criminal defense lawyers at Ellis Law. Our experienced legal team will assist you and explore possible defenses in your case to help you avoid what can be significant consequences. Call us at 732-308-0200 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Freehold, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout East Brunswick, Toms River, Middletown, Jersey City, Neptune, Hudson County, Union County, Essex County, and Ocean County, as well as Brooklyn and New York, New York.