Defendants and Domestic Violence Restraining Orders
The lawyers at the Horn Law Group are constantly in touch with law enforcement regarding domestic violence cases. The police are responding to more instances of domestic violence incidents than ever. New Jerseyans are cooped up and thanks to Gov. Murphy and his restrictive coronavirus rules barred from having fun. The police departments are closed or offering limited access. The courthouse is closed and contacting key members of the domestic violence court staff has become a specialized art form.
New Jersey has among the strictest prevention of domestic violence laws in the United States. A domestic violence restraining order issued in New Jersey is permanent. The consequences of domestic violence to the victim are immeasurable. In New Jersey, the consequences to a defendant found to have committed an act of domestic violence are quite severe. If you are a client of the Horn Law Group or not, you need to know the impact of a domestic violence restraining order.
New Jersey Domestic Violence Resources – Self-help Domestic Violence
The consequences to a defendant in a Domestic Violence matter include:
- Barred from your home
- Prevented from spending time with your children
- Restricted from certain employment
- Registration in a domestic violence offenders database
- Compelled to give a DNA sample and submit to fingerprinting
- Subjected to a fine between $50 and $500
- Paying the other sides legal fees.
I offer you here only the high-level consequences of a domestic violence restraining order. The day-to-day consequences are severely limiting.
Litigating a domestic violence restraining order
is always a very difficult task. You will be given a very limited time to prepare. Evidence may be presented that you see only for the first time in court. Likewise, producing evidence and witnesses for your side of the case can be very challenging. During the coronavirus lockdown, New Jersey courts have resumed conducting domestic violence final restraining order trials. The trials are conducted via videoconference. These are the key 10 steps to ensuring that your rights are honored during a domestic violence hearing.
One. Service of the Domestic Violence Temporary Restraining Order.
You must be personally served with the Domestic Violence Temporary Restraining Order. It is as if the order does not exist if you are not served. Likewise, all Amended Orders must be served
Two. Notice of the Entire Domestic Violence Complaint.
You are entitled to advance written notice of every claim made by the plaintiff. In other words, if the plaintiff complains that you were the aggressor in a pushing and shoving incident that did not escalate, checking off harassment is a reasonable starting point for the court staff.
If at the hearing, the plaintiff now testifies to a dramatic fight including suffering a severe assault, you have the right to require the plaintiff to submit an amended Temporary Restraining Order. An amended Temporary Restraining Order must be served on you. You have the right to have time to digest the contents of an amended Temporary Restraining Order and to seek advice and counsel. Do not be forced into rushing a restraining order hearing when you have not had the opportunity to absorb all of the charges.
Three. Submission of evidence.
During the coronavirus lockdown, evidence must be submitted to the court five days in advance. The court will manipulate the screen so that everyone can see the evidence. You have no right to get the other side evidence in advance. However, you only submit it to the court, in advance. Likewise, the other side has no right to receive your evidence in advance.
I have tried hundreds of domestic violence cases. I have watched people represent themselves in domestic violence hearings hundreds of times. They rarely do a good job cross-examining the other side. If you represent yourself, you must cross-examined the other side.
Cross-examination questions must be questions. Do not use cross-examination to make your closing argument. Leading questions call for “yes” or “no” answers. Structure your questions with the intent that your witness will answer your question in the affirmative – meaning yes!
Example cross-examination questions
“On direct examination you testified I sent you a nasty text message, correct?” Then
“Is it true that my nasty text message was sent after you sent me these 17 nasty text messages?” And
“Reading through the 17 messages on six of the messages you asked me to call you, is that correct?”
Five. Gather your witnesses.
Offer witness testimony of people who have seen something. If your ex says you assaulted him or her and made a mark, find a witness who saw your ex right after the incident. Were there any marks?
Six. Subpoena the Police.
The police hear a lot of domestic violence stories. If the police report states that there were no marks on the plaintiff, you will need to have the police officer that took the report, testify in court to authenticate that report. Police reports are hearsay. Police reports are not evidence without the police officer testifying.
Tip: when you send your subpoena to the police department, follow up with phone calls and be nice to everyone you talk to.
Seven. Screenshot your Text Messages.
The court does not want your mobile phone in the file and sent to Trenton for the next 20 years. Text messages on a device are worthless unless you are giving up the phone that houses the text messages. Screenshot and print the text messages in some reasonable order. Do not just extract out through the text messages that you like when the whole thread is 100 text messages. However, be careful with that strategy because the other side can do the same. Judges like the entire story; not a spin job.
Eight. Video conference etiquette.
Make sure your technology works before the court hearing. Do not hold your phone during your testimony. You will look like a madman as you move your phone around and move your head to keep it in front of the phone. Prop your phone or get a real little tripod to hold your phone in place. Better yet, use a WebCam on a laptop or tablet. This way, if you need to look at your phone for something you will not disrupt the video proceedings. Remember, all of your testimony will be recorded both on all audio and video. Make sure you have a relatively quiet spot, free from distractions in order to testify at your restraining order hearing.
Nine. Your look counts.
During the coronavirus lockdown, you will not have to go to court. This gives you extra time to wash her face, comb your hair and put on a decent shirt. I also recommend wearing pants. There have been numerous occasions where litigants and lawyers both have stood up during a court hearing only to be seen wearing underwear while on the during a domestic violence videoconference. Do not make a memory for the judge. It will not make a difference in your case unless your case is a close call. If your ex is calling you crazy, and you show the Judge your underwear to court, you might seem a little crazy.
10. Appeal if you Lose.
From the day the court orders the entry of a final restraining order against you, you have 45 days to file an appeal to the New Jersey Appellate Division. The New Jersey courts are welcoming to self represented litigants. Conversely, filing and prosecuting an appeal is a very technical art. You will need at least a consultation with a skilled family law or domestic violence law attorney in order to pursue a successful appeal.
In conclusion, domestic violence is a no go in New Jersey. Do not let a bad performance at trial allow a molehill to grow into a mountain. If you have a hard time with your ex now, just imagine yourself at the bottom of the mountain in your acts at the top of the mountain.