Harassment is typically a disorderly persons or petty disorderly persons offense in New Jersey. This means that unless the charges are in conjunction with other indictable charges in NJ Superior Court, the case will be handled by the Municipal Court where the charges stem from.
For the purposes of cyber crime, the behavior often involves some form of electronic communication, whether it is via telephone, computer, fax machine or some other medium for direct or indirect communication. The Criminal Code also requires that the defendant intend to harass the victim. This high level of culpability must accompany one of the specific types of prohibited behavior.
There is now a separate statute in the New Jersey Criminal Code for Cyber Harassment, though many instances of harassment do not rise to the magnitude of this new law.
What Constitutes Harassing Communications Under 2C:33-4?
The first, and most prevalent type of cyber harassment, involves harassing communications to another. These include anonymous communications, communications made at extremely inconvenient hours or in offensively coarse language or any other manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm. Specifically, “communication” refers to any form of communication made by any means, including, but not limited to any verbal or written communication, communications conveyed by any electronic communication device, which includes but is not limited to a wire, radio, electromagnetic, photoelectric or photo-optical system, telephone, including a cordless, cellular or digital telephone, computer, video recorder, fax machine, pager, or any other means of transmitting voice or data and communications made by sign or gesture. This rather exhaustive list was intended by the legislature to cover every facet of communication in our technology-driven world, though new or emerging technologies not listed may still be within the scope of the law.
Elements of a Harassment Charge Under N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4
In order to obtain a conviction under this subsection, the state must prove the following elements:
- Defendant made or caused to be made a communication;
- Defendant’s purpose in making or causing the communication to be made was to harass another person; and
- The communication was in one of the specified manners or any other manner similarly likely to cause annoyance or alarm to its intended recipient.
What is a “Offensively Coarse” Communication?
Whether a particular communication is offensively coarse depends on the circumstances of the person to whom it was communicated and the setting of the utterance. The gender, age or occupation of the person to whom it was uttered will also be factors to be considered by the court. For example, what was once considered offensive in 1960 may not be offensive in 2014, or vice versa.
Can I go to Jail if I am Found Guilty of Harassment?
Harassment charges often lead to Temporary Restraining Orders (TROs) and Final Restraining Orders (FROs) for the victim against the defendant. In fact, a TRO can occur even before the defendant has been indicted or convicted of any crime! For many people, any type of restraining order could significantly impact a person’s livelihood as much as jail time, including a person’s ability to go to work or to see their children.
Beyond the inconvenience of a restraining order, the defendant could face a disorderly or petty disorderly persons offense which carries up to six (6) months or thirty (30) days in jail, respectively. However, there are a couple of circumstances in which this crime would be more likely to result in jail time. For instance, it would become a crime of the fourth degree, if, in committing this offense, you were already serving a term of imprisonment or were on parole or probation as a result of a conviction of any indictable offense. Fourth degree indictable crimes (which are equivalent to a felony) can result in jail time of up to eighteen (18) months in a New Jersey State Penitentiary.
Been charged with, or accused of harassment of another person? It is always a good idea to speak to an experienced harassment defense attorney such as those at the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall. We are available 24/7 to speak with you in a free, no-obligation consultation. Call us at 1 (800) 879-9087 to talk to an attorney today.