Final Restraining Orders (FROs) involve very challenging Domestic Violence cases where courts attempt to make the best possible decision for all parties involved due to the long-term consequences that a Final Restraining Order (FRO) has on family and household members. In New Jersey, courts have attempted to be sure that defendants facing a potential Final Restraining Order (FRO) were fully aware of the implications of those restraining orders along with their right to an attorney before a Final Restraining Order (FRO) was decided upon before a judge. However, there have been instances where Final Restraining Orders (FROs) have been issued without a defendant fully knowing their long-term consequences. One such case is A.A.R. v. J.R.C., which clarifies how New Jersey courts view this issue.
Important Facts in A.A.R. v. J.R.C.
In A.A.R. v. J.R.C., the defendant appeals from a final restraining order (FRO) entered under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. The plaintiff had commenced an action against the defendant, alleging assault. The defendant filed a cross-complaint alleging Domestic Violence against the plaintiff. Neither party was represented by counsel at trial. At the beginning of the Final Restraining Order (FRO) hearing, the judge asked the defendant if he was ready to proceed with the trial and the defendant answered in the affirmative; however, the judge did not inform the defendant of his right to counsel and potential serious consequences that could occur if a Final Restraining Order (FRO) was entered against him if a Final Restraining Order (FRO) was granted.
After the trial, the judge rendered detailed findings of fact and entered a FRO in the plaintiff’s favor. The judge also dismissed the defendant’s cross-complaint. It was only then that the judge detailed the consequences of the FRO, including the fact that the defendant’s fingerprints and photographs would be included in the New Jersey Domestic Violence Registry. As the judge imposed those consequences, the defendant stated, “I feel like . . . [a]t this point, I’m going to need a lawyer[.].” The judge, however, denied the defendant’s request because he had “already heard the case.” This appeal followed.
Key Takeaways from A.A.R. v. J.R.C.
A.A.R. v. J.R.C. has essential takeaways regarding the defendant’s procedural due process rights.
First, the Court clarified that due process does require that a defendant understands that they have a right to retain legal counsel and receive a reasonable opportunity to
retain an attorney. While due process does not require the appointment of counsel for indigent defendants in a domestic violence proceeding seeking a FRO, due process does require that a defendant understands that he or she has a right to retain legal counsel and receives a reasonable opportunity to retain an attorney.
Similarly, the Court concluded that due process also requires trial courts to apprise domestic violence defendants, in advance of trial, of the severe consequences should a FRO be entered against them. Our Courts have concluded that a FRO has severe consequences for the personal and professional lives of those who are found guilty of what the Legislature has characterized as a severe crime against society. These consequences include:
• criminal contempt charges for violations of a TRO or FRO, which can require prison,
• the protentional fundamental alteration of familial relationships, and
• an entry into the New Jersey Domestic Violence Registry maintains the defendant’s fingerprints and photographs.
Here, the Appellate Court vacated the FRO and remanded the case to the trial court for a new trial. Defendants should be aware of these rights and have an opportunity to secure counsel or an adjournment to ensure a fair trial on an issue as serious as a Final Restraining Order (FRO).
How the Bianchi Law Group Can Help
The Bianchi Law Group is a criminal defense firm in New Jersey made up of a team of Former Prosecutors. Our firm primarily focuses on Criminal Defense, Domestic Violence, DUI/DWI, and Municipal Court cases. Our team of former prosecutors has prosecuted a wide range of criminal and domestic violence cases and now represent clients in criminal defense and domestic violence restraining order hearings. The Bianchi Law Group is equipped with experienced Criminal Defense attorneys in New Jersey to help individuals looking for a New Jersey lawyer.
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The Bianchi Law Group partners Robert (Bob) Bianchi and David Bruno are certified along with only 250 New Jersey attorneys as certified criminal trial attorneys by the New Jersey Supreme Court. Bob and Dave regularly appear as national legal analysts to comment and debate on major news networks such as Court TV, the Law and Crime Network, Fox News, CNN, HLN, MSNBC, and Fox Business.
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