What is Harassment?
Someone cannot file harassment charges against you simply because they are annoyed with you. Instead, NJ Statute 2C:33-4 considers it harassment when someone “makes, or causes to be made, a communication or communications anonymously or at extremely inconvenient hours, or in offensively coarse language, or any other manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm.”
Furthermore, the law categorizes harassment as the act or threat of “striking, kicking, shoving, or other offensive touching” or other alarming conduct or acts that has the purpose of alarming or annoying another person.
In general, harassment in New Jersey is defined as either a one-time occurrence or a series of behaviors meant to threaten or annoy another party but does not rise to the level of a violent offense.
Harassment charges are tried in municipal courts, and convictions are considered a petty disorderly persons offense. Harassment penalties can result in up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.
Often the most lasting penalty from a harassment conviction is that it ends up on your criminal record and would appear in background checks. This can result in difficulty finding employment and pursuing other opportunities.
If you are faced with harassment charges while on probation or on parole for an indictable offense, the charge is instead deemed a fourth-degree offense, even if the offense and harassment charge are unrelated. A fourth-degree offense carries potential penalties of up to a $10,000 fine and 18 months in jail.
Defending Harassment Charges
The prosecutor will look at the totality of the situation in deciding harassment charges, including the relationship between the parties, their ages, occupations, and other factors. The relationship element can be important, as it would likely not be considered harassment if someone is trying to reach their child through an ex-spouse by reasonable means.
There also must have been the intent to harass, again emphasizing the point a simple instance of annoyance generally does not result in a harassment conviction. Minor situations such as a verbal disagreement, or one party simply contacting another in a reasonable manner because they are owed money, are often not grounds for harassment.
Your legal team may agree to a deal whereby you will attend anger management classes to have the charges dropped. A skilled defense attorney will examine each aspect of the case to defend harassment charges and determine the most effective decision that minimizes the consequences.
If you have already been convicted of harassment, you may be eligible to have your record expunged after five years, so it will no longer appear on background checks.
Cyber Harassment in New Jersey
Cyber harassment charges feature many of the same elements as harassment. If a person threatens someone or knowingly sends or requests obscene material through electronic communication, it is in most cases a fourth-degree crime. If the person is 21 or older and impersonates a minor when cyber-harassing a minor, it is elevated to a third-degree crime.
A fourth-degree cyber harassment conviction can result in up to 18 months in jail and a fine of $10,000, and a third-degree conviction could mean up to five years in jail and a $15,000 fine.
Your cyber harassment attorney will examine all aspects of the case, but common defenses include:
- Demonstrating how a reasonable person would not have found the communication emotionally harmful
- Seeking to prove there was no intent to cause harm or fear
- Categorizing the situation as free speech protected by the First Amendment
If charged with cyber harassment, you may also be charged with terroristic threats or stalking, which carry additional penalties. This underscores the importance of hiring a defense attorney to represent your case.
Harassment vs. Stalking
Harassment and stalking are both fourth-degree charges, and the actions that result in each charge share some similarities. For example, unwanted communication that leads to emotional distress can be considered stalking in some circumstances but harassment in others.
A case is often considered stalking if the acts are committed over an extended period of time, whereas harassment charges may result from a single instance or threat. Essentially, repeated instances of harassment can lead to stalking charges.
Just like with harassment, stalking can also be considered cyberstalking if the behaviors take place through electronic means.
Hire an Aggressive Defense Attorney for Harassment Charges
A petty disorderly persons offense tried in a municipal court may not sound like it could have a significant impact on your life, but the fines, jail time, and addition to your criminal record can have serious consequences. It is imperative you have a criminal defense lawyer advocate for you against harassment charges.
Contact Daniel M. Rosenberg & Associates so we can share during a free consultation how we would represent your case and work to reduce charges or have them dismissed entirely.