Domestic Violence Month: What is Stalking?

As October is recognition of domestic violence month, it is befitting to post some information you may not know about domestic violence proceedings in the civil courts of New Jersey.

While many people may be familiar with the physical violence that all too commonly plagues domestic relationships and results in restraining orders, many people may not be familiar with those other, less commonly discussed, acts of domestic violence that are statutorily recognized by New Jersey as grounds for a domestic violence restraining order.

Let us briefly examine one of these statutorily recognized causes of action other than physical assault:  Stalking.

Stalking is specifically declared an act of domestic violence at law.  While not as frequently addressed by our courts as those more ‘common’ grounds for the issuance of a restraining order, there is law on the issue that can provide valid guidance for litigants both asserting and disputing claims of stalking.

The legal elements of stalking are that: (1) the accused engaged in speech or conduct[1] that was directed at or toward a person; (2) that speech or conduct occurred on at least two occasions; (3) the accused purposely engaged in speech or a course of conduct that is capable of causing a reasonable person to fear for herself or her immediate family bodily injury or death; and (4) the accused knowingly, recklessly or negligently caused a reasonable fear of bodily injury or death.  These four elements are very critical for anyone who believes they are or have been a victim of stalking or, likewise, believes they have been falsely accused of stalking pursuant to New Jersey’s law of domestic violence.

While application of the above elements of stalking in domestic violence proceedings is somewhat limited, in the seminal case of H.E.S. v. J.C.S., the court examined a case where the Plaintiff, wife, had discovered her husband had surreptitiously installed video and audio surveillance in her bedroom to view the wife’s private acts and conversations in her bedroom.  The Court found that this act, coupled with the husband’s prior course of conduct, including physical threats of bodily harm to the wife and her family as well as his constant inexplicable knowledge of the wife’s whereabouts and phone conversations, constituted a prima facie demonstration of stalking that might be proven by the wife at trial.  Accordingly, the Supreme Court remanded the case back to the trial court to conduct proceedings to determine whether husband was guilty of stalking.

If anything is clear on the law of stalking as it pertains to domestic violence, it is clear that New Jersey Courts need to provide more guidance in the future to litigant’s both alleging and defending this charge. 

If you are facing a case involving domestic violence, you need an experienced attorney on your side. Call us today at (732) 529-6937 to talk about your case and what we can do to help you.

 

[1]Conduct for purposes of stalking is defined as repeatedly maintaining a visual or physical proximity to a person or repeatedly conveying, or causing to be conveyed, verbal or written threats or threats conveyed by any other means of communication, or threats implied by a conduct or a combination thereof directed at or toward a person.

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