The Bianchi Law Group reports that on July 24, 2023, Governor Murphy signed into law Senate Bill 1517 (2023), which significantly expands who can obtain a temporary or permanent protective order in New Jersey.  The new law, L. 2023, c. 127, authorizes the issuance of protective orders in certain situations under which the current domestic violence laws are inapplicable because the victim lacks a prior or existing familial or dating relationship.

            Under the current Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 to -35, in order to obtain a final restraining order (FRO), a victim must establish two elements:  1)  that the accused committed a predicate act of domestic violence as defined in the Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:25-19 (setting forth nineteen predicate acts), and 2) that a restraining order is necessary for his or her protection, N.J.S.A. 2C:25-29.   Three types of relationships between the accused and the victim are required under the Domestic Violence Act to secure a protective order, that is:  1) a spouse, former spouse, or any person who is a present household member, or was at any time a household member; 2) a person with whom the victim has a child or is expecting a child; and 3) a person with whom the victim has had “a dating relationship.”  N.J.S.A. 2C:25-19(d).  An individual who does not fit within one of those three categories of relationships is not entitled to protection under the Act.

The new law, L. 2023, c. 127, amends the “Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act of 2015” (SASPA), N.J.S.A. 2C:14-13, and renames it the “Victim’s Assistance and Survivor Protection Act” (VASPA) because it also covers actor-victim interactions not of a sexual nature.  A. Health Comm. Statement to S. 1517 1 (L. 2023, c. 127). Prior to amendment, SASPA authorized protective orders to persons not eligible for protection under the domestic violence statutes for acts of nonconsensual sexual contact, sexual penetration, or lewdness, or attempts thereof, committed against them.  A. Health Comm. Statement to S. 1517 1 (L. 2023, c. 127).

Significantly, VASPA expands the scope of SASPA to authorize the New Jersey Superior Court to issue temporary or final protective orders to victims, regardless of their current or prior relationship status to the abuser, by expanding the eligible acts for which a protective order may be obtained to four specific offenses:  stalking, cyber-harassment, sexual assault, and criminal sexual contact.  The new law applies the same procedures for obtaining either an initial, temporary protective order or a final protective order for victims of stalking or cyber-harassment, whether or not such interactions relate to any nonconsensual sexual encounter between the actor and victim.   A. Health Comm. Statement to S. 1517 1 (L. 2023, c. 127).

Under VASPA, a person may file an application for an initial temporary protective order with the Superior Court alleging the commission of stalking or cyber-harassment, as defined under N.J.S.A. 2C:12-10 and N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4.1.  A temporary protective order issued under the new law would limit the contact of the alleged actor (respondent), and could also:  prohibit the respondent from entering the residence, property, school, or place of employment of the alleged victim or the alleged victim’s family or household members, and require the respondent to stay away from any specified place that is named in the order and is frequented regularly by the alleged victim or the alleged victim’s family or household members; and prohibit the respondent from following, harassing, or threatening to harm, follow, or harass the victim.  A. Health Comm. Statement to S. 1517 1 (L. 2023, c. 127).

Within ten days following the issuance of the temporary protective order, a hearing would be held in the Superior Court in the county where the temporary order was issued, unless good cause was shown for the hearing to be held in another county.  At the hearing, the standard for issuing a final protective order would be by a preponderance of the evidence.  A violation by the respondent of either a temporary or permanent protective order would constitute either a fourth-degree contempt crime or disorderly persons offense under N.J.S.2C:29-9.

VASPA also revises N.J.S.A. 2C:14-20, which established a central registry maintained by the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), of all protective orders issued under SASPA , to include protective orders issued for victims of stalking and cyber-harassment, and persons charged with violating any such protective orders.  The information in the central registry is generally confidential, but is released to law enforcement, courts, and public agencies in order to carry out investigations, proceedings, or for other official purposes.  N.J.S.A. 2C:14-20

The Bianchi Law Group continued to monitor the progress of S. 1517 (2023) as it made its way through the State Senate and Assembly, and now reports that the new law has been signed by the Governor.  This new law significantly alters who can obtain a temporary or permanent protective order in New Jersey.  If you are facing domestic violence charges, you should immediately reach out to our team of experienced former prosecutors to schedule a free case review with one of our expert criminal defense attorneys. A complete understanding of criminal law by your attorney is crucial to your defense. Your rights and freedoms are in jeopardy, and you owe it to yourself to act. We are available 24/7 to provide immediate assistance and further counsel on your criminal case at (862) 315-7929.