Repeatedly contacting a family member, former acquaintance, former romantic partner, public figure, or any other person can rise to the level of a crime. In many cases, harassment is a lower-level crime, but it can still lead to arrest, trial, and a criminal record. Cyber-harassment are also available, and they carry a higher criminal penalty than other harassment offenses. In many cases, harassment crimes come with the risk of high fines and jail time, even for low-level offenses.
If you are charged with harassment in South Jersey, it is important to talk to a lawyer about your case. The Atlantic City harassment defense lawyers at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych may be able to take your case and fight to have your charges dropped or get your case dismissed at trial. For a free consultation on your case, contact our law offices today at (609) 616-4956.
When is Harassment a Crime in New Jersey?
The crime of harassment generally includes repeated actions taken to annoy or alarm the victim. In many cases, harassment can include continuous communications, such as calls, texts, or even letters. Under N.J.S.A. § 2C:33-4, there are 3 ways harassment can be charged.
First, it is illegal to send communications (or have them sent) in any of the following ways:
- Anonymously (e.g., repeat calls from a blocked number),
- “[A]t extremely inconvenient hours” (e.g., calls late at night or while the victim is at work), or
- “[A]ny other manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm (e.g., threatening or scaring the victim).
Second, you can be charged with harassment for “striking, kicking, shoving, or other offensive touching,” as well as threats to do so. This is often charged in domestic violence cases where assault charges may be too extreme or little to no injury results from the strikes.
Third, “any other course of alarming conduct” and repeat acts used “to alarm or seriously annoy” the victim can constitute harassment. This is a catch-all subsection, used to broadly expand the harassment statute to cover other conduct the legislature might not have thought of.
The Definition of Cyber-Harassment in New Jersey
In addition to these three forms of traditional harassment, there is a separate statute for “cyber-harassment.” Essentially, this covers any harassment offense that is perpetrated through online communications. That can include any electronic messages (which could cover texts and e-mails) as well as social media messages and posts.
To constitute a cyber-harassment crime, the communications must include:
- Any communications that threaten injury to the victim or another person, or to property
- “[L]ewd, indecent, or obscene material” used “to emotionally harm a reasonable person” or put them “in fear of physical or emotional harm”; or
- Threats to commit a crime against the victim or their property.
These elements make the conduct slightly worse than those covered by the traditional harassment statute, justifying the higher penalties for cyber-harassment.
Penalties for Harassment Crimes in NJ
Traditional harassment is a petty disorderly persons offense. This is the lowest level of criminal offense in New Jersey and is similar to a “summary offense” or a “violation” in other states. While they can involve up to 6 months in jail, petty disorderly persons offenses are typically punished by a fine only. Nevertheless, the fine can be as high as $500 for these offenses.
Cyber-harassment charges automatically have higher penalties. Usually, cyber-harassment is a fourth degree crime. This is the lowest level of offense titled “crime” under NJ law, but it can still carry severe penalties of up to $10,000 in fines and up to 18 months in prison. If you were over 21 years-old and impersonated a minor when committing the offense, it is upgraded to a third degree crime carrying 3-5 years in prison and fines up to $15,000.
In many cases, judges may not send you to jail for your crimes, but they will usually order some terms to help ensure the victim is safe and free of further harassment. Minors charged with cyber-harassment may be sent to classes or training aimed at reducing cyber-harassment, and their parents may need to attend, too. Failing to attend can yield fines. With other cyber-harassment offenses, the actor might be banned from using computers or other devices as part of their probation.
The most common term of probation or bail for harassment crimes is an order not to communicate or further harass the victim. Continuing to harass them can send you back to jail by revoking your bail or probation. In addition, if you are on probation or in jail because of another crime when you commit a harassment offense, your crime is automatically upgraded to a fourth degree crime.
Atlantic City Harassment Defense Lawyer Offering Free Consultations
If you or a loved one was charged with harassment, our attorneys can help fight the case and work to protect them from severe penalties. For a free consultation on your case and to learn more about the crimes and penalties for harassment in New Jersey, contact our law offices today. The Atlantic City harassment defense attorneys at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych are available 24/7 to schedule a free consultation on your case. Call today at (609) 616-4956.