NJ Harassment Charges, Defenses, Penalties
Harassment is a petty disorderly persons offense punishable under the authority of N.J.S.A. 2c:33-4. Under certain circumstances, harassment may be charged as a fourth degree offense. The maximum jail sentence for a petty disorderly persons offense is 30 days. The maximum jail sentence for a fourth degree offense is 18 months. If convicted of harassment in NJ, it will appear on your criminal record. You should contact a lawyer prior to your first court date. If you have been charged with harassment in NJ, Attorney Todd Palumbo will provide a free consultation and answer your questions.
A person commits harassment if with the purpose to harass another he/she:
- makes or causes to be made, communication or communications anonymously, or at extremely inconvenient hours, or in offensively coarse language, or any other manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm
- Subjects another to striking or kicking, shoving, or other offensive touching, or threatens to do so
- Engages in any other course of alarming conduct or of repeatedly committed acts with purpose to alarm or seriously annoy such other person
- A person commits a crime of the fourth degree if while in prison or on probation or parole for an indictable offense the individual commits an act of harassment.
In order for the state to make its case, it must prove that the accused had the purpose to harass. An argument or a late night phone call or two does not necessarily rise to the level of harassment. There must be something more sinister for the police to arrest and charge an individual with harassment in NJ.
Also central to the concept of harassment is the “communication.” For the purpose of the statute a communication can be an email, a text message, a letter, a phone call, face to face conversation, etc. The statute includes communications that the defendant causes to be made. You do not necessarily need to communicated directly with the alleged victim to be guilty. Hypothetically, it could be through a third party. The key once again is the purpose to harass. Therefore, if a third party happens to overhear or see an offensive communication, It is unlikely he/she can claim harassment if it was not directed at the third party. There was no purpose to harass on the part of the accused.
Likewise, the meanings of “offensively course” or “seriously annoy” are somewhat dependent upon the parties involved and the location where the alleged conduct takes place. A 23-year-old college student is certainly different from a 73-year-old grandmother. A nightclub is not a bingo hall. I recently won a harassment trial by proving that the alleged victim could not have possibly been alarmed by the communications made by my client given the long history of offensive and graphic emails that she had sent over the course of their relationship. The result may have been different if my client had sent those same emails to the alleged victim’s grandmother.
Similarly, I defended a client charged with harassment in the Newark Municipal Court who had sent approximately 42 emails over the course of 3 months to his ex-wife. The alleged victim in this case claimed that the number of emails sent, not the content, illustrated my client’s purpose to harass and annoy. My client was found not guilty. The judge found that the emails, although numerous, did not reveal any purpose to harass. The subject of those emails centered around the receipt of child support payments and visitation. There was no profanity used. There were no threats of any kind, and the ex-wife responded to the emails on no less than 14 occasions.
The NJ harassment statute by design speaks in generalities and provides a lot of gray area. Although this gives police great latitude when deciding whether to charge harassment, it also provides harassment lawyers with fertile ground for effective defense strategies.
Frequently, I will request probable cause hearings to determine whether the alleged conduct should have resulted in a harassment complaint. It is not uncommon for a municipal court judge to dismiss a harassment complaint for lack of probable cause. This means that the complaint should not have been issued in the first place.
However, even if the judge does find that there was probable cause for the issuance of a harassment complaint, the chances of getting a not guilty verdict at trial or dismissal of the charges pre-trial are still very good.
If you have been arrested and charged with harassment in NJ, contact an experienced New Jersey criminal defense lawyer who understands the complexities of the statute and has proven winning strategies to defeat these charges.81 Second St. South Orange, NJ, Essex County, 216 North Avenue East, Cranford, NJ 07016