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VIOLATION OF THE N.J. STALKING STATUTE CAN LEAD TO THE ISSUANCE OF A DOMESTIC VIOLENCE RESTRAINING ORDER
In L.G v. T.G., decided March 12, 2019 by the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court that a New Jersey court has the power to issue a domestic violence restraining order whenever there is such behavior by one party towards the other that constitutes extremely annoying behavior or repetitively annoying behavior without physical violence having occurred.
In this case, the trial judge, after hearing that a husband had engaged his father to hire a private detective to place a GPS tracking device on his wife’s car, so he could follow her whereabouts continuously while she was using the car, found the husband had violated the stalking statute which is included as one of the reasons a domestic violence restraining order can be issued. The investigating officer of the Howell Township police department testified that L.G. appeared “concerned, nervous and scared,” and that T.G. refused to answer questions about the GPS. After further investigation, the police officer testified there were eighty-eight successful logins after the device was installed, which had “real time GPS tracking” via a wireless network. L.G. also testified that her husband questioned her about where she had been and told her he was going to find out more about where she went. There had been one prior incident of domestic violence between the parties but on that prior occasion, L.G. chose to dismiss the temporary restraining order she had obtained to see if the marriage could be reconciled.
The stalking statute, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-10(b), was implemented “to intervene in repetitive harassing or threatening behavior before the victim has actually been physically attacked.” H.E.S. v. J.C.S., 175 N.J. 309, 329 (2003) (quoting State v. Saunders, 302 N.J. Super. 509, 520 (App. Div. 1997)). Therefore, “acts of actual violence are not required to support a finding of domestic violence.” Granting a final restraining order to a victim of stalking furthers the domestic violence law’s goal of assuring the victims of domestic violence the maximum protection from abuse the law can provide.
The Appellate Court said “T.G.’s actions were clearly directed at L.G. We are not persuaded by his argument that he didn’t place the device on L.G.’s vehicle, but authorized his father to employ a private investigator to do so. Indirectly and through a third-party, T.G. had L.G. followed, monitored, observed, and surveilled, by using a device in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:12-10(a). The evidence amply supports the judge’s finding that L.G. was monitored over a sufficient period of time, establishing a repeated course of conduct within the meaning of the statute. We see no basis to disturb the judge’s findings as to stalking.”
The court pointed out that the trial judge found the information obtained through the GPS led to T.G. intentionally harassing L.G., and, “to intimidate her, to try to trap her.” Thus, they had “no difficulty in affirming the judge’s finding that T.G. committed the predicate act of harassment by using information gathered by the GPS.”
The court also found that the trial judge reviewed the factors needed to determine if L.G. required the protection of a final restraining order to remove her from immediate danger and to prevent further abuse. These factors are:1) The previous history of domestic violence between the plaintiff and defendant, including threats, harassment and physical abuse;2) The existence of immediate danger to person or property;3) The financial circumstances of the plaintiff and defendant;4) The best interests of the victim and any child;5) In determining custody and parenting time the protection of the victim’s safety; and6) The existence of a verifiable order of protection from another jurisdiction.[N.J.S.A. 2C:25-29(a)(1)-(a)(6).] The court found the trial judge properly considered the evidence presented to him and that he had relied upon sufficient credible evidence in the record to find “regular serious abuse” between the parties and appropriately considered L.G. to be a victim of past domestic abuse. Therefore, the Appellate court upheld the issuance of the final restraining order against T.G.
While unpublished, and therefore not considered to be binding on other courts, this decision establishes an important concept in the use of technology to spy on one’s spouse or significant other, that is, that such spying can be considered in violation of the criminal statute barring stalking and can support issuance of a restraining order with serious consequences to the perpetrator.