The New Jersey Harassment statute is intended to discourage certain types of behaviors.
But that is true for every law isn't it?
Every law is intended to prohibit people from behaving in certain ways. DUI laws are passed to prohibit motorists from driving under the influence of either alcohol or drugs. Simple Assault and Aggravated Assault laws are meant to discourage people from harming others. Whether it's a slap in the face or a jaw-shattering punch, these types of behaviors are criminalized (unless you have a defense available).
Harassment charges are mainly heard in Municipal Court. In some rare circumstances, Harassment charges reach fourth-degree status. However, for the most part, these charges are issued along with Terroristic Threat and Simple Assault charges. This "family" of charges usually emerges from "love triangle" situations or domestic violence types of cases.
The majority of our clients were genuinely surprised to learn that they were breaking the law. The Harassment law prohibits certain types of communications.
For example, let's say that you learn your boyfriend cheated on you with your best friend. Anyone in your situation would be reasonably upset. You have every right to be disappointed and angry with both of them. No one would blame you if you never spoke to either one ever again.
But now, let's say that you decide to tell both of them how evil they are through text messages. You send each one nasty message, and it made you feel a little better. Now, you decide to text many messages because it makes you feel even better. Well, under the law, if you send a communication (text) anonymously or at extremely inconvenient hours, or in offensively coarse language, or any other manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm you will be charged with Harassment.
Now, let's say that instead of texting your two former friends, you decide to drive by their houses every night at 3 am (yes, this was a real case), and you yell "Fire" at the top of your lungs and light firecrackers outside their bedroom window. Again, under the law you would be engaging in "any course of alarming conduct or of repeatedly committed acts with purpose to alarm or seriously annoy such other person."
Harassment laws criminalize these types of "Private Annoyances." As a society, we understand the painful nature of betrayal and the healthy benefits of expressing how one feels (venting), but the people who wronged you are also protected from being harmed. Each case is unique, and each case has its own set of circumstances.
As we mentioned at the beginning, Harassment charges usually come in "Bundles." Defendants get charged with Terroristic Threats, Simple Assault, and Harassment all in one shot!
Let's take the same love triangle hypothetical that we have been working with. Assume you have been texting your ex-boyfriend and former best friend for an entire week. Neither has called the police to complain. But one night, you decide to go to a bar for some drinks and perhaps meet a nice guy. After two glasses of wine, you head to the bathroom. Who do you bump into on your way to the ladies room?
It's your ex-boyfriend! In seconds you fly into a rage, slap him in the face and threaten to kill him.
The police are called, and just like that, in seconds, you have three criminal charges filed against you.
1. Simple Assault (the slap):
2. Terroristic Threats (you said you were going to kill him):
3. Harassment (your ex and former best friend show the cops all of your texts).
Yes, life can become very complicated very quickly. All of these charges carry a fine of up to $1,000.00 and defendants may be sentenced to six months in jail. These are serious charges. If they are not handled properly, you may find yourself with a criminal conviction and possibly finding yourself incarcerated.
Don't face the criminal justice system alone. We became attorneys to help people. Take advantage of our FREE case evaluation and let us fight for you.
About the Author
Mr. Peyrouton is a Criminal Defense Attorney in Bergen County, NJ.