Harassment charges result from a wide variety of situations. In many cases, the harassment complaint is filed not by a police officer, but rather by an ordinary citizen. This is often a source of confusion for clients. However, New Jersey does allow a citizen to file a criminal complaint. The court must thereafter make a finding of probable cause in order for the complaint to proceed. If you have been charged with harassment, you face conviction of a “petty disorderly persons” offense, which carries up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Contact my office anytime for a consultation on your case.
New Jersey Harassment Law
The harassment statute provides in relevant part: a person commits a petty disorderly persons offense if, with purpose to harass another, he:
a. Makes, or causes to be made, a communication or communications anonymously or at extremely inconvenient hours, or in offensively coarse language, or any other manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm;
b. Subjects another to striking, kicking, shoving, or other offensive touching, or threatens to do so; or
c. Engages in any other course of alarming conduct or of repeatedly committed acts with purpose to alarm or seriously annoy such other person.
A communication under subsection a. may be deemed to have been made either at the place where it originated or at the place where it was received.
Each of those three subsections is “free-standing, because each defines an offense in its own right.” State v. Mortimer, 135 N.J. 517, 525, 641 A.2d 257 (1994). The plain language of subsection (a) provides that a person commits a petty disorderly persons offense if he or she communicates in a “manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm.” A violation of subsection (a) requires the following elements: (1) defendant made or caused to be made a communication; (2) defendant’s purpose in making or causing the communication to be made was to harass another person; and (3) the communication was in one of the specified manners or any other manner similarly likely to cause annoyance or alarm to its intended recipient.
The purpose to be served by enactment of the harassment statute is to make criminal, private annoyances that are not entitled to constitutional protection. 2 Final Report of the New Jersey Criminal Law Revision Commission, commentary to § 2C:33-4, at 296 (1971) (“Final Report”). Thus, the substantive criminal offense proscribed by subsection (a) “is directed at the purpose behind and motivation for” making or causing the communication to be made. Mortimer, supra, 135 N.J. at 528, 641 A.2d 257. A finding of a purpose to harass may be inferred from the evidence presented.
It has already been held that the harassment statue is not unconstitutional as the statute neither regulates protected expression nor impermissibly punishes motive where the statute is a victim-selection or penalty-enhancement provision, but does not criminalize the expression of hate itself, neither the First Amendment nor the New Jersey Constitution is offended thereby.
It has also been held that the statute is not unconstitutionally vague; the phrases in the statute when read in isolation may be vague, but the subsection is not vague because each communication is subject to the requirement that there be a purpose to harass.
New Jersey Harassment Lawyer
I specialize in criminal defense law and am here to stand up for those charged with harassment. Please contact my office today for a free consultation.