Being Found Guilty of More Than One Contempt Charge Will Result in A Mandatory Minimum 30-Day Jail Sentence
Appellate Docket No.: A-5188-18
Decided July 14, 2021
Submitted by New Jersey Family Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
In a recent unpublished opinion, the Appellate Division of New Jersey reviewed whether defendant knowingly violated a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) when he claimed he thought it had expired.
In State v. H.S.G., on March 23, 2019, defendant walked into police headquarters and “stated that he was assaulted by his ex-girlfriend.” Based on this initial encounter, Officer Rodriguez considered defendant at this point as a “victim of domestic violence.” Defendant sat down “at the lobby area and then he actually explained what had occurred during the time he was at [plaintiff’s] house.”
As Officer Rodriguez began to explain to him his rights as a victim of domestic violence, defendant took out his cellphone and showed him a video recording of the incident: “Apparently there was screaming, shouting and he was just holding the phone and she was just pushing him, striking him.” Defendant specifically identified the woman in the video as his former girlfriend. Officer Rodriguez testified that based on what he saw in the video, he and another Fair Lawn Police Officer responded to the woman’s residence and arrested her for the disorderly persons offense of simple assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(a). Rodriguez explained that since the police officers viewed defendant as the victim of this assault, they allowed him to remain in the lobby of the police headquarters.
When the police officers returned to headquarters, Officer Rodriguez explained to defendant that they had his former girlfriend in custody and that he needed to fill out “a couple [of] forms . . . and that was it.” However, when Officer Rodriguez checked the domestic violence registry to determine whether the woman had an active domestic violence restraining order against her, he realized it was defendant who had violated the terms of an active TRO. Officer Rodriguez testified that he immediately released the woman and arrested defendant.
Audio in the police car indicated that defendant was aware of the TRO, but claimed that he was told by unidentified sources that “if you don’t get a court day it’s expired.” defendant was arrested on the charge of fourth degree contempt under N.J.S.A. 2C:29-9(a), for purposely and knowingly violating the TRO “by calling [plaintiff] via cell phone, and going to [plaintiff’s] house and having a verbal argument[.]” On March 25, 2019, the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office downgraded the contempt charge to a disorderly persons offense, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-9(b)(2), and transferred the prosecution of this complaint to the Family Part.
The case came down to defendant’s statement and whether he “knowingly” violated the TRO. The trial court found that despite him making this statement, he was served with the TRO, and the TRO provided that it was not going to be modified or dismissed without a subsequent court order. Therefore, defendant knew of the requirements and still violated the TRO. Defendant appealed and the Appellate Division affirmed for the same reasons laid out by the trial court.
Violations of a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) or a Final Restraining Order (FRO) in New Jersey, otherwise known an contempt of a restraining order, is a very serious offense. Being found guilty of more than one contempt charge will result in a mandatory minimum 30 day jail sentence. Violations should be taken seriously, but there are many ways to defend against an alleged violation. One of the ways is arguing that the defendant did not “knowingly” violate the restraining order, as attempted above.
If you or someone you know have been charged with any contempt of a restraining order, indictable offense or disorderly persons, contact the experienced attorney at Hark & Hark to ensure you are adequately defended, otherwise you could have negative impacts on your case like the defendant above.
At Hark & Hark, we represent clients in Superior Court for criminal matters like the present case. We vigorously defend our clients by fighting to uphold their constitutional rights, and ensure law enforcement follow proper procedures to legally make an arrest. We offer payment plan options to clients financially incapable of providing full payment upfront. If you are facing criminal charges similar to this circumstance, please call us to discuss the matter. At Hark & Hark, we represent clients for any case in any county in New Jersey including Atlantic County, Bergen County, Burlington County, Camden County, Cape May County, Cumberland County, Essex County, Gloucester County, Hudson County, Hunterdon County, Mercer County, Middlesex County, Monmouth County, Morris County, Ocean County, Passaic County, Salem County, Somerset County, Sussex County, Union County, and Warren County and any town including Bridgeton, Commercial Township, Deerfield Township, Downe Township, Fairfield Township, Greenwich Township, Hopewell Township, Lawrence Township, Maurice River Township, Millville, Shiloh Borough, Stow Creek Township, Upper Deerfield Township, and Vineland.