Proposed New Jersey Law Would Extend Domestic Violence Restraining Orders to Pets

Article provided by New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorney - Anthony N. Palumbo

A bill currently pending in the New Jersey Legislature would expand domestic violence restraining orders to household pets. Senator Jeff Van Drew, one of the bill's sponsors, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that "when partners are having really severe problems with each other, the pet is used as a pawn in that process." Extending the reach of domestic violence restraining orders to prevent abusers from having access to their victims' pets, he said, is "common sense."

Understanding New Jersey's Domestic Violence Laws

Under New Jersey law, when a domestic violence victim calls the police, the accused abuser must be arrested if there are any signs of physical injury. Criminal charges for domestic violence can result if the abuser committed an act of criminal restraint, kidnapping, false imprisonment, homicide, assault, terroristic threats, sexual assault, lewdness, criminal mischief, burglary, trespassing, harassment, criminal sexual contact, or stalking.

In addition to the criminal penalties for domestic violence, which vary based on the offense committed, charges are often coupled with the issuance of a domestic violence restraining order, which prevents the accused abuser from contacting the victim. In order to obtain a restraining order, the victim must make a showing of domestic violence before a judge, who can grant a temporary restraining order (TRO) on little to no evidence. If the TRO is granted, a hearing will be held within 10 days to determine whether it should be converted into a final restraining order. While the abuser's presence is not required for the issuance of a TRO, the abuser must be present at the final hearing. A final restraining order will only be issued if the judge finds that domestic violence has in fact occurred between the parties or the abuser admits it.

When a restraining order is issued, the abuser will be prohibited from engaging in certain conduct, such as contacting the victim or visiting the victim's home or place of work. If an abuser violates the restraining order, he will be charged with criminal contempt, which is a fourth degree crime carrying penalties of up to 18 months in prison and up to $25,000 in fines. If an individual is convicted of a second violation, he will receive a mandatory sentence of 30 days in prison in addition to contempt charges.

Expanding Domestic Violence Restraining Orders to Animals

Legislation expanding domestic violence protections to pets has been passed in 20 states, the District of Columbia, and in Puerto Rico. The New Jersey bill is modeled after Maine's legislation, which was the first of its kind in the U.S.

Under the proposed legislation, courts issuing domestic violence restraining orders in New Jersey would be authorized to prohibit an abuser from having any contact with any animal owned, possessed, leased, kept, or held by either party or a minor residing in the household. The court would also be authorized to enter an order directing the possession of the animal and providing that the animal may not be disposed of prior to the disposition of the crime or offense. Additionally, if a party has abused or threatened to abuse the animal, there would be a presumption that possession of the animal should be awarded to the non-abusive party.

Learning More About New Jersey's Domestic Violence Laws

Few disputes are more volatile than those between domestic partners. Sometimes all it takes is a misunderstanding for a simple domestic quarrel to escalate into a situation involving law enforcement, restraining orders, and contempt charges.

The most important thing you can do if you've been involved in a domestic violence incident is to speak with a skilled criminal defense lawyer. If you need an attorney, you can contact me, Anthony N. Palumbo, New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorney, through the email form on my website or at 1-866-664-8118 for a free and confidential consultation. As a former prosecutor and a current criminal defense attorney with more than 35 years of experience, I know how to represent clients in domestic violence disputes and I can help you to understand the charges and possible consequences in your case.