New Jersey Appellate Court Clarifies Evidentiary Standards for Obtaining a Restraining Order

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA recent ruling by the New Jersey Court of Appeals clarifies the standard of proof required in obtaining a Final Restraining Order (a/k/a  an “F.R.O.”). This ruling affirms a court’s authority to use discretion to weigh evidence in restraining order proceedings. If you are being harassed by a spouse, significant other, a person you’ve lived with, or have a child with, you should contact a New Jersey family law attorney right away.

Although married for several years, Gandy and Blaine experienced irreconcilable differences, so they moved into separate residences and later obtained a divorce in 2012. There were two children born during the marriage, and Gandy and Blaine shared custody. The relationship between Gandy and Blaine seemed plagued with a history of hostility. In May 2013, Gandy claims that Blaine came to pick up the kids, but while he was waiting in the driveway he appeared to be doing something behind Gandy’s car. When Gandy came to the door of her residence, Blain walked out from behind Gandy’s car and around some bushes in order to proceed up Gandy’s walkway.

There was a brief argument over financial issues but no other major confrontation that day. The next day, Gandy was about to go to the store when she decided to check behind her car. She had previously experienced tire punctures on several occasions. When she looked at her passenger tire, she saw two spikes propped up against it. Feeling threatened, she called the police. An officer responded, and Gandy indicated that she suspected Blaine.

Gandy immediately went to a judge to obtain a Final Restraining Order (FRO) against Blaine. She testified that there were five other occasions when her tires had been punctured. She also asserted that Blaine had previously tampered with her home security system, barricaded the entrance to her home, removed windshield wipers from her car, bleached her clothes, and damaged her furniture.

The judge determined that Blaine had placed the spikes behind Gandy’s tire, and in doing so Blaine had violated the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA) through harassment and criminal mischief. The judge immediately granted Gandy’s FRO against Blaine. But Blaine filed a motion for reconsideration, claiming that the spikes were not construction spikes (Blaine works in construction), and that there was insufficient evidence to prove that Blaine had placed the spikes there. The court was unmoved by Blaine’s reasoning.

Blaine took his case to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey, stating that the lower court had abused its authority in using circumstantial evidence to arrive at its conclusions.

The appellate court noted that, although there was no photographic or other evidence to clearly tie Blaine to the spikes, the judge in the lower court had used her discretion to decide which party seemed to be telling the truth. The lower court judge had deemed Blaine’s testimony “not credible” and noted that Gandy’s side of the story seemed more truthful. The appellate court noted that trial courts may exercise discretion in deciding which parties are more believable witnesses.

The appellate court also stated that, although the evidence may have been circumstantial, the lower court is allowed to evaluate evidence and take into account Blaine’s testimony, motives, and opportunity. The appellate court confirmed that in FRO cases, allegations must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence. This evidentiary standard is not so strict as to preclude the use of circumstantial evidence coupled with testimony and inferences.

Restraining Orders are an important tool for protecting people who feel harassed or threatened. These types of situations can wreak havoc on the lives of victims. When you are facing intimidation and threats to your safety or, if you believe you may have been falsely accused of an alleged act of domestic violence and find yourself having to defend it,  you need a strong New Jersey family law attorney at your side. The family law attorneys at Goldstein Law Group are experienced in obtaining restraining orders and defending them, as well as divorce law and family law. Call a lawyer who will stand up for your rights at 732-967-6777, or use the contact link on this page to request a consultation.

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New Jersey Law Tries To Address Grandparent Visitation Disputes, October 11, 2014