Yes. If you have repeatedly told a former lover or spouse to leave you alone after the breakup yet they continue to text you, you may obtain a restraining order. The domestic violence lawyers at our law firm will collect the evidence that the harasser continued to text you, call you or even surprise you at your home in order to prove to a judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey that the restraining order is required for protection under New Jersey’s Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. Below is this attorney’s take on a recent case.
In B.T. v. S.J.L., the parties engaged in a romantic relationship for about one year. B.T. stopped talking to S.J.L. in November 2016 in order to distance herself from him. S.J.L. then sent B.T. several text messages and left many voicemails asking that B.T. speak to him. On November 12, 2016, S.J.L. sent B.T. text messages asking why she is ignoring him. B.T. ultimately told S.J.L. that she did not want to speak with him and she told him goodbye. Despite B.T.’s response, S.J.L. sent many more messages over the next few days asking to speak with her. S.J.L. sent B.T. one message that implied S.J.L. was waiting outside of S.J.L.’s home. At that point, B.T. responded to S.J.L. and asked him to leave her alone.
Although B.T. was clear in her request to S.J.L. to leave her alone, S.J.L. continued to send many text messages. B.T., again, requested that S.J.L. leave her alone, but S.J.L. did not stop sending text messages. B.T. told S.J.L. that she was going to involve the police if he did not leave her alone. In response, S.J.L. sent B.T. several more text messages in which he said he was getting in his car to come see her. B.T. again asked S.J.L. to leave her alone and told him she was going to call the police. B.T. also told S.J.L. that she would obtain a restraining order. On November 17, 2016, at 3:26 a.m., S.J.L. sent B.T. several text messages and left four voicemails. B.T. asked S.J.L. to leave her alone and S.J.L. stated that he would comply with her request.
S.J.L., however, did not comply and sent B.T. a text message one week later asking when he could see her. When B.T. did not respond, S.J.L. continued to text her. Later that week, B.T. and S.J.L. met at B.T.’s house and spoke in S.J.L.’s car for about an hour. The next day, B.T. texted S.J.L. to let him know that she would have a friend drop off S.J.L.’s belongings to him. She also told S.J.L. that she intended to block his phone number so that he could no longer communicate with her. Although B.T. blocked S.J.L., S.J.L. continued to try to communicate with B.T. by sending text messages to her friends and family. S.J.L. also sent messages through email and social media to B.T., and he also called B.T. from his father’s phone. S.J.L. admitted to B.T. during his attempts to communicate that he had a problem with alcohol.
B.T. had a voicemail on her phone from an unknown number on December 7, 2016. S.J.L. used his father’s phone to leave B.T. the voicemail. In the voicemail, S.J.L. stated that he planned to go to B.T.’s job and wait for her in the parking lot so that they could talk. B.T. stated that she was the only one at her job at 10 p.m. when it closed that night. The voicemail alarmed B.T. so much so that she told her supervisor, who suggested that she obtain a temporary restraining order against S.J.L. B.T. obtained a temporary restraining order on December 9, 2016.
B.T. stated that there had been one other act of domestic violence on June 4, 2016. B.T. testified that she and S.J.L. were out at a bar with friends when S.J.L. became intoxicated and frustrated with B.T. According to B.T., S.J.L. was frustrated that B.T. was not paying attention to him so he struck her in the arm. S.J.L. stated that he did not have a clear recollection of the incident, but stated that both parties were intoxicated that night. S.J.L. also stated that he may have grabbed B.T.’s arm in order to pull her closer to him, but denied intending to cause B.T. any harm. At trial in the Superior Court of New Jersey Family Part, S.J.L. stated that he was only contacting B.T. so that he could change her mind about refusing to speak with him. S.J.L. also noted that B.T. did not testify that she was afraid of S.J.L. In her closing, however, B.T. stated that she was afraid of S.J.L. and noted that S.J.L.’s alcohol use made him unpredictable. The trial judge found that S.J.L. intended to alarm or annoy B.T. by sending her a large number of text messages, by reaching out to her friends and family, and leaving B.T. voicemails despite her requests that S.J.L. leave her alone. The judge also found that S.J.L.’s testimony lacked credibility and that S.J.L. was aware and intended that his conduct would alarm or annoy B.T. The judge further concluded that B.T. was in need of a final restraining order because S.J.L.’s behavior only stopped when the temporary restraining order was issued. The trial judge ultimately granted the final restraining order and S.J.L. appealed the judge’s decision.
On appeal, S.J.L. argued that there was not enough evidence at trial for a sufficient finding that he harassed B.T. because his messages were not threatening or sent at inconvenient hours. S.J.L. also argued that the trial judge wrongly relied on the number of messages sent rather than what the messages said. Lastly, S.J.L. argued that the judge was wrong to consider any messages sent before the face-to-face meeting between the parties. The New Jersey Appellate Division stated that it gives great deference to the trial court in matters of domestic violence. The Appellate Division also stated that it will not overturn a trial court decision when it is supported by credible and adequate evidence. Additionally, the Appellate Division stated that it gives even more deference to the trial judge’s findings when witness testimony and credibility is involved.
The Appellate Division explained that in order to enter a final restraining order, the person seeking the order must provide that a predicate act occurred. A predicate act is a similar crime or offense to the one being alleged. The Appellate Division further explained that the trial court should consider any previous history of domestic violence between the parties when determining if a predicate act occurred. Lastly, the trial court must consider whether a final restraining order is necessary to protect the victim from further harm or abuse. The Appellate Division stated that the predicate act in this case was harassment, which is committed when a person communicates offensively touches, or engages in alarm conduct with another person with the intent to harass the other person. The Appellate Division explained that evidence of harassment must be present and that simply being aware that another person may be alarmed or annoyed is not enough to constitute harassment.
The Appellate Division held that record showed that S.J.L. committed harassment against B.T. The court reasoned that B.T. had asked S.J.L. several times to leave her alone, but S.J.L. did not comply with those requests. Furthermore, the Appellate Division found that several of those messages were sent at inconvenient hours and that S.J.L. continued to try to communicate with B.T. even after B.T. blocked S.J.L.’s phone number. The court stated that S.J.L. also threatened to appear at B.T.’s place of employment late at night. The Appellate Division agreed with the trial court that S.J.L. was not credible. The Appellate Division also held that S.J.L.’s claims were unfounded because the trial court, when making its decision, relied on S.J.L.’s inability to change his behavior as well as the number and content of the text messages. Lastly, the Appellate Division found that just because B.T. agreed to meet with S.J.L. does not mean that she was not afraid of him. Ultimately, the Appellate Division agreed with the trial court and affirmed its decision to enter a final restraining order.