An experienced New Jersey lawyer could help you understand and fight a criminal harassment charge. New Jersey Legislative Statute §2C:33-4 defines harassment, but this law is not always easy to interpret. A knowledgeable attorney can review your case and explain how this law applies to your particular situation.
Although harassment is usually a disorderly persons offense, a conviction can have serious long-term consequences. Speaking with a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible could be vital for protecting your rights. The attorneys at Villani & Deluca have over 20 years of experience, including experience as a municipal prosecutor. They are available 24/7 to speak with you about your NJ harassment case.
What Constitutes Harassment in New Jersey?
A wide variety of behavior might be described as harassment according to New Jersey law. Under NJ Statutes §2C:33-4, a person commits harassment if they engage in certain conduct with the purpose of harassing another person. Any of the following actions may constitute harassment under this statute:
- Making communications anonymously at extremely inconvenient hours, with offensive language or in any other manner likely to annoy or alarm
- Striking, kicking, shoving, or otherwise touching someone in an offensive way
- Threatening to strike or touch someone
- Engaging in any other alarming conduct or repeatedly attempting to alarm or annoy someone
This statute is quite broad, and people may have differing opinions on whether actions in a particular case truly constitute harassment. Behavior that is annoying or alarming to one person may seem like no big deal to someone else.
Physical contact or repeated threatening phone calls usually meet the definition of harassment. However, cases involving repeated text messages or other undefined behavior may be less clear. In general, continued behavior that is overtly annoying, threatening, or made at unreasonable times may be considered harassment in New Jersey.
Situations That Lead to Harassment Accusations
Accusations of harassment can arise in a variety of circumstances and between any persons. However, some common scenarios lead to these kinds of allegations. Partners who are ending a relationship or ex-spouses with an ongoing dispute may get into arguments that cause one party to accuse the other of criminal harassment. Fights with neighbors or other acquaintances can also lead to these accusations.
Unfortunately, past animosity may make someone more eager to report communications or other behavior as harassment. Whatever your situation may be, an NJ harassment lawyer could help you defend yourself against these allegations.
Penalties for a New Jersey Harassment Conviction
In most cases, NJ law classifies harassment as a petty disorderly persons offense. Under NJ Statutes §2C:43-8, a person convicted of harassment could face up to 30 days in jail. Other penalties may include fines or community service.
Harassment is a crime in the fourth degree when the defendant is in prison, or on probation or parole when the alleged acts of harassment take place. In these cases, the penalty is up to 18 months imprisonment as well as fines, probation, and other potential penalties.
Although the penalty for a petty disorderly persons offense may seem minor, it is worthwhile to seek the advice of a local harassment defense lawyer. These convictions can potentially impact future employment opportunities, custody of children, and other areas of your life. Although you may be able to expunge a first conviction for a petty offense, it may be difficult or impossible to expunge subsequent convictions. Experienced attorneys, like those at Villani & DeLuca, can work to protect your rights and ensure that you are treated fairly.
Legal Burdens and Procedures in Harassment Cases
After a person is charged with harassment, prosecutors may offer a plea bargain. These plea deals can seem like a cheap and easy way to end a case, and the penalties may seem minor. However, any criminal conviction can seriously affect your rights, so you should consult with an NJ criminal defense attorney before pleading guilty.
If a case goes to trial, the prosecutor has the burden of proving every element of a harassment charge. They must establish that the alleged behavior happened, but they must also prove that it was done to harass the other person. This means a prosecutor cannot win a conviction unless they show the purpose of the behavior was to annoy or alarm another person, which can be difficult to do. Prosecutors may have an especially challenging time proving that repeated communications were made for the purpose of harassment if there was another reason for those communications.
You have the right to review evidence in your case and cross-examine witnesses at trial. Knowing how to stand up for your rights and follow legal procedures can give you an advantage when fighting your case.
An accomplished criminal lawyer knows how to handle a harassment case from start to finish. They can help you get evidence and police reports, understand the court process, negotiate with prosecutors, and defend you at trial. This valuable representation could result in the dismissal of charges, a more advantageous plea agreement, or winning a trial.
Defending Harassment Cases in New Jersey
There are possible defenses to harassment charges. Every harassment case is different, and available defenses depend on the unique facts of the situation. An NJ criminal lawyer with experience handling harassment cases could help you evaluate possible defenses in your case.
As previously mentioned, prosecutors may have a difficult time proving that the purpose of your actions was to harass the other person. Communications needed to obtain important or urgently needed information might not be harassment. For example, in cases where the accuser and defendant share children, it might be a defense that repeated communications were made for the purpose of locating children or checking on them during an emergency.
As with any other crime, a person charged with harassment has certain rights under the laws of New Jersey and the United States. These include important constitutional rights, such as the right to be free from illegal searches. An NJ criminal defense lawyer may be able to help if your rights were violated. For example, illegally seized evidence may be inadmissible in court.
You may wish to avoid attempting to present a defense before enlisting the help of a tough NJ harassment lawyer. Any statements you make to police, prosecutors, or other witnesses could hurt your case. Sometimes a person makes a statement intended to explain their motivations, but prosecutors find a way to use these statements against the person in court.
The Attorneys at Villani & DeLuca Will Help Defend Your Rights
Harassment cases can be tricky because the law is so broad. Reviewing all the available evidence and speaking with an NJ harassment lawyer can give you the best chance of developing a winning legal strategy. Even though these charges may seem insignificant, a conviction can have lasting consequences.
Harassment cases can be hard for prosecutors to prove. Don't give up your valuable rights before speaking with a lawyer. An attorney with experience defending harassment cases in your area will be best equipped to handle the laws, prosecutors, and judges that will affect your case.
The attorneys at Villani & DeLuca have decades of experience representing clients in New Jersey, and they are well-versed in NJ harassment laws. If you are facing an NJ harassment case, contact a lawyer now to protect your rights.