It’s disturbing how quickly a personal argument can escalate into a full-blown domestic violence case ─ with long-term ramifications for everyone involved. Even when the alleged victim wants to walk-back statements, it is out of their hands. Those who stand accused are forced to fight to defend themselves and their freedom.
At Keith Oliver Criminal Law, we handle cases like these all the time. Our Mercer County domestic violence attorneys have a long track record of securing case dismissals, acquittals, reduced charges, and minimum penalties for defendants. All too often, we run into cases where people should never have been charged in the first place.
No matter what your situation is, you deserve personalized attention during this critical time in your life. Our attorneys are here to listen to your story and fight for the best possible outcome for you. Contact us today for a free, confidential case evaluation with an experienced Mercer County domestic violence attorney.
How a Mercer County Domestic Violence Attorney Can Help You After an Arrest
It can seem like the entire system is stacked against you when you have been charged with a domestic violence offense. However, a Mercer County domestic violence attorney from Keith Oliver Criminal Law can help you even the playing field. Our team serves as an advocate and resource for you during this difficult time.
When you trust us to handle your case, we will:
- Investigate to determine exactly what happened, including collecting evidence and interviewing witnesses
- Move to exclude inadmissible evidence in the state’s case or file motions to reduce or dismiss your charges based on the insufficiency of evidence
- Identify all possible defenses in your case
- Negotiate for a favorable plea agreement, if you believe a deal is in your best interests
- Advocate on your behalf at trial if you decide to contest your charges
Our Mercer County criminal defense attorneys will be by your side throughout the entire process. We are always here to discuss the status of your case and answer your questions.
Understanding New Jersey Domestic Violence Laws
New Jersey’s Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA) generally defines domestic violence as any act of abuse committed by someone who has a current or prior familial or household relationship with the victim of the abuse. While abuse often takes a physical form, such as assault, criminal sexual contact, or kidnapping, abuse can also be emotional or psychological in nature, such as with harassment, stalking, or terroristic threats.
The PDVA lists categories of relationships in which domestic violence can occur. These relationships include:
- Married couples, including separated or divorced couples
- Current or former household members, whether related by blood or marriage or not
- Couples who currently have or previously have had a dating or intimate sexual relationship
- Couples who have a child in common or anticipate having a child if one of the parties is pregnant
Both the perpetrator and the victim must be at least 18 years old or an emancipated minor, barring certain exceptions, such as when the victim is a minor who is dating the perpetrator. A minor is considered emancipated if they have been declared emancipated by a court or administrative agency, have been married, have entered the military, or have or are expecting a child.
In addition to proving that both the alleged perpetrator and victim fall under the scope of the PDVA, the state must prove a domestic violence case by showing beyond a reasonable doubt that the perpetrator committed one of the enumerated predicate acts of abuse on the victim. Evidence that can prove an act of domestic violence can include photos of the victim’s injuries, testimony from the victim or from eyewitnesses to the act of domestic violence, or testimony from others the victim confided in or contemporaneous diaries or journals kept by the victim.
Domestic Violence – What You Need to Know About Mandatory Arrest in New Jersey
Not every allegation of domestic violence will automatically lead to the alleged perpetrator’s arrest. Instead, police must consider several factors in determining whether a mandatory arrest applies when responding to a call of domestic violence. These factors include:
- The complaining victim shows signs of injury, including signs or symptoms of internal, non-visible injuries.
- Both parties have signs of injury, but the relative difference in injury, the parties’ history of domestic violence, and other factors indicate that one party perpetrated the violence on the other.
- The terms of a no-contact or restraining order have been violated by the alleged perpetrator.
- The alleged perpetrator has an active arrest warrant.
- The facts and circumstances give rise to probable cause that a weapon was involved in the alleged domestic violence.
Even if these factors weigh against a mandatory arrest, police still have the discretion to arrest an alleged perpetrator when they have probable cause to believe that an act of domestic violence has occurred.
What Are the New Jersey Domestic Violence Penalties?
The penalties that may be imposed following a conviction for an act of domestic violence in New Jersey will vary depending on the grading of the criminal charge. Acts of domestic violence that involve no injuries or minor injuries will usually result in a disorderly persons offense charge (also called a misdemeanor in other states). However, acts that result in serious physical or mental injury may result in an indictable crime charge (also called a felony charge in other states).
Sentencing ranges include:
- Disorderly persons offense: Up to six months in jail and $1,000 in fines
- Fourth-degree crime: Up to 18 months in jail and $10,000 in fines
- Third-degree crime: Three to five years in prison and up to $15,000 in fines
- Second-degree crime: Five to 10 years in prison and up to $150,000 in fines
- First-degree crime: Up to 20 years in prison, although extremely serious crimes like kidnapping or murder can result in sentences ranging from 30 years to life imprisonment
In some cases, courts may impose a term of probation in addition to or in lieu of a jail or prison term. Sentences for a conviction for domestic violence also usually result in the requirement to attend anger management and alcohol or drug abuse counseling. Both disorderly persons and indictable crime convictions for domestic violence disqualify an offender from being eligible to purchase firearms.
What Are the Common Defenses to Domestic Violence Charges?
Just because you have been arrested and charged with domestic violence does not mean you will be convicted. The state must prove the case against you beyond a reasonable doubt. Common defenses to domestic violence charges in New Jersey include:
- Alibi – If you have been accused of an act of domestic violence like stalking or burglary, you may have an alibi that shows you were somewhere else when the alleged act purportedly occurred.
- Lack of intent – You may be able to defend yourself against allegations of stalking, harassment, or violations of a no-contact order by proving that you were inadvertently in the same place as the victim and had no intent to commit an act of domestic violence, or that your actions were not intended to annoy or alarm the victim.
- Self-defense or defense of others – Allegations of assault or homicide can be overcome by showing that you lawfully acted in self-defense or defense of another person.
- Consent – Claims of sexual assault or criminal sexual contact may be overcome if you can prove that the alleged victim consented to the act or contact. However, consent cannot serve as a defense to a charge of violating a no-contact order, even if you were invited by the victim.
- False accusation – You might be able to prove that you have been falsely accused of domestic violence, often by highlighting inconsistencies in the alleged victim’s story.
Can Domestic Violence Charges Be Dropped?
If you are facing criminal domestic violence charges, you might assume that the charges will automatically be dropped if you and the alleged victim have reconciled and the victim no longer wishes to pursue the charges against you. However, once criminal charges have been filed by the county prosecutor, the decision to continue the case or drop the charges rests with the prosecutor’s office, not with the complaining victim.
In some cases, prosecutors may choose to drop domestic violence charges when the victim no longer wishes to cooperate with the prosecution, particularly where the victim’s testimony will play a significant part in the state’s case. But in cases involving serious domestic violence or if the prosecution suspects the victim has been coerced or intimidated into refusing to cooperate, prosecutors may choose to continue pressing domestic violence charges against the defendant.
What Are Some Common Charges Related to Domestic Violence?
At Keith Oliver Criminal Law, our criminal defense attorneys can help no matter what charges you are facing. Our firm has successfully handled cases involving:
- Domestic assault, or putting another person in reasonable fear of imminent physical harm
- Endangering the welfare of a child, which involves engaging in sexual conduct or abusing or neglecting a child
- Stalking, or the unwanted and unwelcome following or surveillance of another person, including through electronic means
- Kidnapping, which involves the physical abduction of a person by force or fraud and taking them to another place
- Sexual assault, which can include the performing of any type of sexual act upon another person without their consent
- False imprisonment, or intentionally restraining another person’s ability to move freely, without legal authority or justification
- Lewdness, or committing any lewd or offensive act with the intent or knowledge that the act will be observed by others who will be offended or alarmed
- Criminal sexual contact, or the intentional, non-consensual touching of the intimate part of another person’s body
- Criminal restraint, or unlawfully restraining someone under conditions of involuntary servitude or that expose them to a risk of serious injury
- Criminal trespass, or unlawfully entering another’s property without their consent
- Burglary, which involves the entry into a structure without lawful authority or consent of the owner, for the purpose of committing another crime once inside
- Harassment, which involves any conduct directed toward another person with the intent to annoy or alarm that person
- Restraining orders, as violating the terms of a restraining or no-contact order, even if such conduct would not constitute a predicate act of abuse, can result in a criminal charge
Where Do I Go to Court for a Domestic Violence Case in Mercer County?
Since domestic violence cases can be considered not only criminal in nature but civil as well (restraining order), they might need to be litigated in two separate courts. All criminal domestic violence offenses will be litigated in either the local Municipal Court or the Mercer County Superior Court.
The specific charge will dictate what court will have original jurisdiction over the charges. All indictable offenses (felonies) will be prosecuted in the Mercer County Superior Court, and all disorderly persons offenses (misdemeanors) will be prosecuted in the local Municipal Court. If the individual is also served with a temporary restraining order, then that case will be heard in the Chancery Division, Family Part of the Mercer County Superior Court.
What Is the Bail Range for a Domestic Violence Case in N.J.?
A defendant charged with a crime that is classified as an act of domestic violence could be forced to spend a few nights in the Mercer County Jail pending pretrial services evaluation and then possibly a detention hearing.
If the defendant is charged under what is referred to as a Complaint-Warrant, then they must be taken from the local police station to the Mercer County Jail so that pretrial services can conduct a risk assessment. That risk assessment will be used by the prosecution to determine whether the defendant will be released on conditions from their Central Judicial Processing Hearing or if a formal detention motion will be filed.
If the prosecution elects to file a formal detention motion, then a bail hearing will be conducted approximately five days later. At that hearing, it will be the prosecution’s burden to establish by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant is too much of a risk to release and must be detained, pretrial, without bail. After hearing arguments from both sides, the judge will determine whether the defendant should be detained pretrial without bail or released.
Your Defense Comes First: Get Help from a Mercer County Domestic Violence Lawyer Now
Domestic violence charges need to be taken seriously. If you are facing criminal prosecution or other legal proceedings for accusations of domestic violence, contact Keith Oliver Criminal Law today for a free consultation. A knowledgeable Mercer County domestic violence lawyer can go over your legal options with you and answer all your questions.