Domestic violence and abuse accusations are very serious and an unfortunate reality for many people. Not only can an allegation of domestic violence lead to serious consequences, it can irreparably damage your life. Domestic abuse can negatively affect entire families and we provide support and services to both those who have been the victim of domestic abuse and those who have been accused of domestic abuse. We know that domestic abuse is never acceptable and will help to protect you and your family from domestic abuse by utilizing our experience and knowledge and excellent representation. However, we also know that because of the nature of these types of cases the police can often be overly aggressive, even when there is not enough information or evidence to support an arrest. Additionally, judges can issue restraining orders that can prevent you from seeing your significant other or even going to your own home.
If you have been the victim of domestic abuse or have been arrested for domestic assault or have been served with a restraining order for domestic violence, then you need an experienced Atlantic City domestic violence defense attorney by your side. The lawyers at the Law Firm of John J. Zarych will fight to protect your rights in court and will provide a vigorous defense against assault and domestic violence charges.
What is Domestic Violence?
According to the New Jersey Attorney General’s report issued in late 2014, there were over 62,000 domestic violence cases in 2014. While this may reflect a slight decrease from previous years, the number of domestic violence cases is still a problem throughout the state. Under the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence statutes, “domestic violence” means the occurrence of one or more acts inflicted upon a person protected under this act by an adult or an emancipated minor.
However, even if one or more of these crimes is committed it does not mean that the accused has committed domestic violence against another, but will merely be the basis for a complaint.
There are eighteen criminal acts that when committed upon a person who is protected under the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991:
- Terroristic threats,
- Criminal restraint,
- False imprisonment,
- Sexual assault,
- Criminal sexual contact,
- Criminal mischief,
- Criminal trespass,
- Criminal coercion,
- Contempt of a domestic violence order and
- Any crime involving risk of death or serious bodily injury.
However, just because there is the presence of one of these criminal activities it does not mean that there is necessarily a domestic violence matter. For a person to be a domestic violence victim there must be some relationship such as the victim is a current or former spouse who is over the age of 18, a current or former household member, or a person whom the perpetrator has had a dating relationship. It does not matter the gender of the victim and domestic violence affects both men and women. It is also important to note that domestic violence is not just physical but can include sexual, emotional, economic, and psychological actions or threats.
Who is Protected Under the New Jersey Domestic Violence Act?
A victim of domestic violence is any person who is eighteen years or older or who is an emancipated minor and who has been subjected to domestic violence by:
- Former spouse
- Any person who is currently a household member
- Person who was at the time a household member
Additionally, the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991 provides that a those who have a child in common with another, a woman who is pregnant, or a person who is in a dating relationship with another can be subjected to domestic abuse.
Criminal Charges and Penalties for Domestic Violence in Atlantic City
Domestic violence charges can be confusing to many people because these charges are both civil and criminal in nature. The charges and consequences of a domestic violence charge largely depend on the underlying criminal offense committed. Both the Atlantic City Municipal Court as well as the Criminal Division of the Superior Court have the authority to hear cases, with lower level offenses sent to the Municipal Court and indictable offenses going to the Superior Court. As noted above, there are eighteen separate criminal offenses which can support a domestic abuse charge, these crimes range in severity from first-degree crimes to fourth-degree crimes, and therefore a person can be sentenced to pay a fine, make restitution, or be sentenced to prison.
First-Degree Domestic Violence
If the underlying criminal activity is considered a first-degree crime, then the court can impose a prison sentence between 10 and 20 years in most cases. However, if the crime is murder then the court has more latitude in the amount of time they can sentence a person to and may choose to impose a sentence of between 20, 25 or 30 years and even life for certain crimes. In addition, the court can also fine the person convicted of a first-degree crime up to $200,000.
Second-Degree Domestic Violence
Second-degree crimes include certain types of sexual assaults, aggravated assaults, and robbery, all of which may serve as the basis for a domestic violence charge. If a person is convicted of a second-degree crime they can face a prison sentence of between 5 and 10 years and a fine up to $150,000.
Third-Degree Domestic Violence
If you are convicted of a third-degree crime such as aggravated assault or possession a handgun, you can be sentenced to 3-5 years in prison. and can be fined up to $15,000.
Fourth-Degree Domestic Violence
If you are convicted of a crime in the fourth degree such as aggravated assault, or criminal sexual contact, in New Jersey, you can be sentenced to up to 18 months in prison and face a fine of up to $10,000.
In addition to these criminal penalties, domestic abuse allegations are often accompanied by a restraining order, which can have their own impact on your relationships and finances. Restraining orders can be filed as a temporary restraining order, and then followed with a final restraining order. A temporary restraining order is designed to protect the victim from any further act of abuse by the defendant. A judge may order a temporary restraining order without you having an opportunity to be heard in court, however, as the name implies this is merely a temporary order and will only last until the court can have a full hearing which will usually be heard within ten days. During the time between the issuance of the temporary restraining order and the final restraining order the defendant and the victim cannot be in contact with each other. This means that a person who has been accused of domestic violence may be wholly unable to communicate with their children or return to their home. While everyone is afforded a fair hearing, a hearing for a full restraining order tends to be heavily prejudiced towards the victim, which can have serious ramifications for a person who has been accused.
How Are Domestic Violence Crimes Investigated in Atlantic City, NJ?
Under New Jersey law, a law enforcement officer is required to arrest a suspect and sign a criminal complaint where: a person claims to have been the victim of domestic violence inflicted by the suspect, or when the office has sufficient evidence to believe that such violence occurred. Additionally, an officer must make an arrest when the victim shows signs of injury, where there is an arrest warrant, where the suspect has violated a domestic violence restraining order, or where the officer has sufficient cause to believe that a weapon was used in committing a domestic violence crime.
If a person has been the victim of domestic violence, they will often file a domestic violence restraining order to protect themselves from the offender. A restraining order is an order issued by a court that is intended to protect the victim of domestic violence. In domestic violence cases a judge can issue an emergency restraining order which can:
- Prohibit the defendant from returning to the scene of the domestic violence, which may include their home.
- Require the search and seizure of any place where the judge has reason to believe a weapon is located
- Bar the defendant from possessing a firearm or other deadly weapon specific under law
Emergency restraining orders are temporary, and the judge can issue one without the other party present, however, if the injured party wants to have a full restraining order put in place they may choose to do so, and the court must hold a full hearing with both the plaintiff and the defendant within ten days. At a restraining order hearing the judge will determine if the plaintiff has proven the allegations in the domestic abuse complaint and if satisfied a judge can issue an order that can:
- Prohibit the defendant from abusing the victim
- Grant exclusive possession of the residence to the plaintiff
- Provide for temporary child custody and parenting time
- Require the defendant to compensate the plaintiff for losses caused by the defendant
- Require the defendant to receive counseling or a psychiatric evaluation
- Prohibit the defendant from entering the plaintiff’s residence, workplace, or school
- Prohibit the defendant from contacting the plaintiff
- Require the defendant to pay the rent or mortgage on the plaintiff’s residence
- Provide for the temporary possession of specified property
- Prohibit the defendant from possessing a firearm.
The court enforces these orders by making it a crime in the fourth degree to violate any of the provisions which can carry an 18-month prison sentence and a $10,000 fine.
Post-Arrest Procedure in Atlantic City Domestic Violence Cases
After you have been arrested for domestic violence, you will be taken to the local police station for what is known as the booking process. During the booking process, the police will take your photograph, fingerprint you, collect your biographical information, and inventory any items you had on your person at the time of your arrest. Following the booking process, you will be placed into the police holding cell until a bail hearing is scheduled.
A bail hearing occurs before a judge usually within 24 hours of a person’s booking. If you are arrested on the weekend or at a busy time, however, it could take as long as 72 hours for a bail hearing to be scheduled. While the hearing you will face is often still referred to as a bail hearing, New Jersey actually virtually eliminated the use of cash bail in the court system back in 2017. Now, the judge at these hearings decides whether someone will be released based on a balancing test, rather that whether or not that person has enough money to pay bond.
An experienced Atlantic City bail hearing defense attorney like those at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych will know how to make the best case to the judge that you should be released to your home and not held in detention while the underlying criminal matter is resolved. Factors that the judge will take into account will be the nature and severity of the crime of domestic violence committed, whether you have a criminal history for domestic violence or other crimes, whether you have a place to stay away from the alleged victim until the matter can be resolved in court, and the strength of ties you have to the local community. The judge can choose to release you on your own recognizance, or without any conditions, release you with conditions such as attending counseling, or detain you until the underlying matter is resolved.
Plea Bargaining and Trial Defense in Domestic Violence Cases
The next step in your case will depend on the crime of domestic violence with which you were charged. If you are charged with a disorderly persons offense like simple assault, your case will be handled through the municipal court system. If you are charged with indictable offense like most aggravated assault charges, your case will be handled through the superior court.
For disorderly person offenses, an arraignment will occur in the municipal court where you will be asked whether you want to plea guilty or not guilty the charges against you. A skilled criminal and domestic violence defense lawyer in Atlantic City is likely to advise you to plead not guilty at this point so they can assess the strength of the case and begin negotiating with the prosecutor. Your lawyer will try to get you into some sort of pre-trial diversion program where the charges will be dropped if you complete the program successfully. If this is not possible, they will try to work out a deal where you will plead guilty to the charges in exchange for a reduced sentence of some sort.
If you do not wish to accept a plea deal, our skilled trial lawyers at The Offices of John J. Zarych are ready and able to fight your case at trial. Trials in the municipal court are always conducted before a judge. There is no right to a jury trial in municipal court.
On the other hand, if you are charged with an indictable offense the prosecutor must first take the case against you before a grand jury. They will present all evidence and witnesses to the grand jury and the grand jury decided if there is enough there to issue an indictment. If an indictment is issued, you will be arraigned in the superior court.
For indictable offenses, pre-trial intervention programs are not usually available. However, your lawyer may still be able to work out a deal with the prosecutor where you plead to a lesser charge or plead guilty to your charge in exchange for a more lenient sentence. Keep in mind that in domestic violence cases, the prosecutor may not be willing to make a deal unless the alleged victim consents to it.
If you wish to take your case to trial, you will be able to choose to have a trail before a jury if your peers. That jury must vote unanimously to find you guilty in order for you to be convicted of the charge against you. Our Atlantic City domestic violence lawyers can work to convince the jury that there is reasonable doubt about whether or not you actually committed the crime alleged.
Our Atlantic City Domestic Abuse Defense Lawyers Can Help
When you are charged with or are the victim of domestic violence, it is important to have the best possible representation to protect your rights and your safety. The domestic violence laws in New Jersey are very complex and are tied to some of the most personal relationships in our lives, therefore it is always wise to work with an experienced Atlantic City domestic violence attorney. At the Law Firm of John J. Zarych, we have a team of dedicated criminal defense attorneys who are experienced and well-versed in both representing victims and defending those who are accused of domestic violence. Our office is available now to assist you. To schedule a no-cost and confidential initial case evaluation, call (609) 616-4956 today or contact us online.
If you have been arrested for domestic violence and assault you could be facing serious penalties and consequences. The Atlantic City criminal defense lawyers of the Law Firm of John J. Zarych can fight to protect you from the consequences of accusations of this type and fight to protect your name and reputation. To schedule a no-cost case evaluation, call (609) 616-4956 today or contact us online.