Interviewer: What are some common mistakes that people make after they’ve been arrested for domestic violence?
Lauren Scardella: Sometimes, there is a no contact order that’s been issued by a judge as a condition of bail with the criminal complaint. Sometimes, the person who is accused ignores that no contact order and does something to violate the no contact order such as return to the home or call, text, email or contact the other person through a third party. The defendant could then be charged with contempt of a judicial order, which is a completely separate criminal charge, or it could be just that their bail gets revoked and they end up back in jail. They’ve made the mistake of contacting that person, perhaps thinking that, “Maybe it’s not going to be that bad and maybe I can just convince her or him to forgive me.”
A No Contact Order, As a Condition of Bail, is Completely Separate from a Domestic Violence Restraining Order
A no contact order is completely separate from a temporary or final domestic violence restraining order, which imposes civil restraints on a person, though a violation of that order is criminal in nature. A domestic violence restraining order is heard in the family court and it can be issued at the same time as the criminal complaint. They are often issued together and the predicate act for the restraining order has to be something that is in our criminal code. However, for a restraining order to be issued, the defendant doesn’t actually have to be charged with that predicate criminal act in a criminal complaint. Conversely, there could be an act of domestic violence that gets charged as a crime without a restraining order being issued. A domestic violence restraining order is only issued if the victim requests one and a judge determines that there is a need for it. Either way, if there is a no contact order or a restraining order, contacting the alleged victim is prohibited and will result in further criminal charges.
Potential Impact of Domestic Violence Charges on an Individual’s Employment Opportunities
Interviewer: If someone’s had a charge, even though it’s been dismissed or dropped, it’s still on the person’s records. Is that going to create some sort of difficulty when someone’s looking to get hired? Do you think employers tend to discriminate over that?
Lauren Scardella: Sometimes employers tend to discriminate because of criminal histories. Recently, New Jersey passed a law that requires companies to wait until they have interviewed job applicants before asking if he or she has ever been convicted of a crime. It’s always a concern even when something has been dismissed because the arrest record remains and that’s a big issue. However, most employers only ask about convictions, not merely whether someone has ever been arrested.
The Different Degrees of Assault Charges in New Jersey
Interviewer: Are there different degrees of what someone could be charged with in an assault case?
Lauren Scardella: Yes. New Jersey indictable offenses are graded first to fourth degree. A first degree crime is the most serious; a fourth degree is the least serious. A conviction on a first degree charge carries with it a prison sentence of 10 to 20 years. A second degree conviction carries jail of 5 to 10 years; third degree is 3 to 5 years, and a fourth degree conviction is jail of up to 18 months. What degree your assault charge is depends on the circumstances and under what specific subsection of the statute you are charged. For instance, the statute will tell you, aggravated assaults under subsection (b)(1) and (b)(6) are second degree offenses, which means you’d be looking at 5 to 10 years in prison if you were convicted.
The Sub-Section that a Person is Charged with May Determine Jail Time or Eligibility for Diversionary Programs
Under other subsections the offense might be a third or fourth degree or even a disorderly persons offense. So, it really pays to talk to a lawyer and understand exactly which subsection you’re charged under. It makes a big difference as to what your jail exposure could be and whether you’re going to be eligible for a first offender’s program.