In our everyday lives, harassment may not necessarily seem like a criminal activity, especially when it’s used to describe someone bothering or annoying you. We don’t always associate behaviors that can technically be considered harassment with criminal activity, so when a person is accused of harassing someone else, it can be surprising and/or even confusing to understand the charges and potential criminal implications. In New Jersey, N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4 outlines the actions that constitute harassment and what penalties can be applied for anyone convicted of this crime.
What is Harassment?
The term harassment can be used to describe a wide number of behaviors and actions that range from civil to criminal in terms of their severity. While most people know what actions can be considered harassment, they may not know where each action falls on the spectrum and what the particular categorization means to them.
Generally speaking, criminal harassment is any instance of intentionally targeting someone and taking specific actions to annoy, torment, or terrorize that individual. This intentional targeting can occur through online interactions (threatening emails, bullying on social media, etc.), as well as in person (stalking, phone calls, repeated visits, etc.).
In most cases, a charge of harassment is not that serious and can be penalized with a fine of up to $500 or a jail sentence of a maximum of 30 days. Minor harassment charges are handled in municipal court and the actions in question are typically de minimis infractions, which means that the court does not handle such small cases or the actions are not actually at the level of serious harassment as defined by law. These charges can usually be handled with a dismissal or a downgrade to a non-criminal offense.
However, when the harassment is serious, the law takes a hard line in criminal charges and penalties. Harassment can be charged as a fourth-degree indictable offense in some cases and that could mean serious legal trouble for anyone accused of such actions.
Criminal harassment charges can extend to cyberstalking, menacing and more, and anyone convicted of these crimes can find themselves sentenced to extended jail time. In fact, individuals should also be aware that if the accused harasser has made threatening statements to another person, those statements may qualify criminally as terroristic threats, thus making them a third-degree crime.
In domestic disputes, a claim of harassment can lead a jury or judge to infer violence or at least violent tendencies, which may or may not actually be the case. Being charged with or even investigated for harassment can put one parent at risk when it comes to custody determinations as well. For instance, a parent who is convicted of harassment, threats, stalking, etc. will be at a great disadvantage in a custody hearing or case involving the removal of a child to another state by the other parent.
At Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, our New Jersey family law attorneys represent anyone who has been charged with harassment of any kind. For more information regarding your legal options, especially when it comes to family and domestic matters, contact our offices today.