NJ Appellate Court Upholds Extreme Risk Protective Order in J.C.G. Case

In the Matter of J.C.G.

Docket No. A-2416-22

Decided May 1, 2024

Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark

In a recent unpublished opinion, the Appellate Court of New Jersey decided J.C.G.’s (hereinafter “appellant”) appeal from an April 11, 2023 order entering a Final Extreme Risk Protective Order (“FERPO”) against him pursuant to the Extreme Risk Protective Order Act of 2018, N.J.S.A. 2C:58-20 to -32.

On June 17, 2022, appellant entered the Saddle River Police Department with his daughter and reported that he had been in an argument with his wife. Appellant advised officers that his wife threatened to claim he kidnapped their child if he took her to the park, and appellant wanted to make sure police knew that he did not kidnap his daughter. He then told officers he did not care if they “lock him up or shoot him.” When officers asked him to elaborate, he said, “he didn’t want to hurt himself or others.” When asked why he made the remark, appellant stated, “with everything going on in the world, why would anybody want to live on this earth.” Officers then called a psychiatric helpline and were told that his remarks did not mandate his involuntary commitment. Helpline personnel offered to conduct a psychiatric screening, which appellant declined. Officers went to appellant’s home to speak with his wife as well. She advised that they did in fact have an argument but reported that she did not feel unsafe. Appellant’s wife indicated that appellant’s remarks were “normal, or somewhat normal” for him to make. Police records showed multiple previous calls from people concerned about appellant’s mental state.

After appellant left the police station on June 17, 2022, police had a second encounter with him, which led to his voluntary hospitalization. Around 7:00 p.m. that day, officers were dispatched to appellant’s residence for a domestic incident. Appellant and his wife were arguing about school placement for their daughter.  When police arrived, appellant’s wife and daughter were on the front porch. Police made contact with appellant’s wife, who told police that appellant said, “he was going to disappear to a place where nobody would be able to find him, and that it was a place only he knew about.”  According to the police report, when officers questioned appellant about this statement, he “refused to elaborate but told officers that they would be the ones to cause his funeral.” Appellant agreed to submit to a psychiatric screening and was diagnosed with adjustment disorder with depressive mood. The doctor recommended counseling and before appellant was to be released, to remove all firearms in his possession. Appellant agreed to surrender his firearms. The Temporary Extreme Risk Protective Order (“TERPO”) was eventually granted.

In anticipation of the FERPO hearing, appellant retained an expert who, after an evaluation of appellant, opined that appellant was “psychiatrically stable and there are no notable concerns at this time with respect to his mental health.” The psychologist found appellant was at “low risk of engaging in acts of self-injury or violence toward himself or others in the foreseeable future, with or without a firearm.” The doctor noted he has never found a person to be at “no risk” and that his “low risk” finding regarding appellant was “one of the lowest possible risk levels he would set forth in these matters.” The doctor’s report relied upon an interview with appellant, a collateral interview with appellant’s wife, a review of the TERPO, the records of appellant’s psychiatric hospitalization, and other documents. The doctor further opined that appellant had “no history of engaging in behavioral problems” and no history of criminal arrest, “engaging in violence, domestic violence, aggression, property damage, fire-setting, animal cruelty, or similarly problematic behaviors.” The doctor administered the Personality Assessment Inventory (PAI) and the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-3 (MMPI-3) tests to appellant.

Following testimony, the judge entered a FERPO. The judge found the officer credible and appellant partially credible because he “was evasive and failed to answer all questions directly.” The judge further stated the appellant “also gave answers and explanations that contradicted various reports, including his own expert report” and that appellant “repeatedly minimized the severity of his statements and behavior to the court.” The judge did not give the psychologist’s report much weight because it was created in anticipation of the trial “and was based largely off of respondent’s own self-reporting.” The judge also found both the 2014 and 2019 incidents established appellant had “a history of threats or acts of violence against self or others.” Appellant appealed.

On appeal, appellant contended that the trial judge erred when she found he had a history of threats of violence against himself or others, and that his statements to police in 2022 constituted threats of violence against himself or others. Appellant argued that the judge took the statements out of context and that he never acted on his statements, none of the reports in evidence said he was a danger to himself or others, and his contacts with police were for the purpose of peaceably resolving marital disputes. Appellant also argued that the trial judge’s finding he was involuntarily committed to a psychiatric facility was erroneous (which the State conceded was erroneous). Appellant also stated that the judge ignored the fact appellant’s psychologist concluded he did not pose a significant risk to himself or others by possessing firearms. Thus, the State failed to show a logical nexus between his mental health diagnosis and a significant risk of harm to himself or others if he possessed firearms.

Ultimately, the appellate court affirmed the trial courts decision to issue the FERPO. The court articulated that although the trial judge mistakenly found appellant had been involuntarily committed, her findings pursuant to the factors under AOC Directive Guideline 3(d)(13)-(15) were amply supported by the record. Therefore, the trial judge neither abused her discretion nor misapplied the law when she granted the FERPO.

At Hark & Hark, we are experienced attorneys who represent clients for appeals in Superior Court for issues like the previously discussed case pertaining to defending against the issuance of a FERPO. We work hard to ensure that our clients receive exceptional representation in order for them to receive the most favorable outcome in their case as a result.

We offer payment plan options to clients financially incapable of providing full payment upfront. If you are facing a similar situation to that of the appellant in this case, 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 Audubon, Gloucester City, Oaklyn, Audubon Park, Gloucester Township, Pennsauken, Barrington, Haddon Heights, Pine Hill, Bellmawr, Haddon Township, Pine Valley, Berlin Borough, Haddonfield, Runnemede, Berlin Township, Hi-Nella, Somerdale, Brooklawn, Laurel Springs, Stratford, Camden, Lawnside, Voorhees, Cherry Hill, Lindenwold, Waterford, Chesilhurst, Magnolia, Winslow, Clementon, Merchantville, Woodlynne, Collingswood, Mt. Ephraim, and Gibbsboro.


Criminal Civil Lawyer

Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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