Restraining order against a stranger? Not so easy in New Jersey
⚫ Restraining orders are typically reserved for domestic violence/ex-partner cases
⚫ NJ lawmakers want to expand the eligibility pool for restraining orders
⚫ Critics say the move could overload the court system
Harassers and stalkers are too protected under New Jersey law, according to legislators and concerned residents who want to change the state's rules on restraining orders.
"We need to do a better job of protecting women in New Jersey," Michele Albano told the Senate Judiciary Committee in late January.
Albano's daughter, while living in Hoboken, received threatening and sexual texts and calls from the same man for three years, but couldn't get a temporary restraining order against him because of one factor — they never dated, married or had a child.
"That, on its face, is close to insanity," said Sen. Jon Bramnick, R-Union, who sponsors legislation that would authorize the issuance of restraining orders in situations where the parties lack a prior relationship.
Albano's daughter instead went through a yearlong process to prove she had enough evidence to get a no contact order. In the meantime, the family "lived in constant fear" that the man behind the messages would show up at her daughter's doorstep, Albano said.
"He lived only two blocks away and she was provided no protection," Albano said.
Under Bramnick's bill, which was heard for "discussion only" on Jan. 30, victims who do not know the defendant, or victims in cases where the aggressor is a co-worker or neighbor, would be able to petition the Superior Court for a temporary restraining order.
After that, a hearing would be held to determine whether a permanent order is necessary.
Concerns with expanding New Jersey's restraining order rules
The legislation is overly broad, ripe for abuse, and has the potential to significantly impact court operations and resources, according to Pamela Geller, legislative liaison for the New Jersey Judiciary.
Based on the bill's current language, neighbors and co-workers who have disagreements have the right to file for temporary restraining orders, Geller said.
The Administrative Office of the Courts estimates that approximately 20,000 temporary restraining orders are issued yearly in connection with criminal and disorderly persons complaints.
"Removing the filter of the familial or dating relationship would increase these numbers drastically," Geller told the Senate panel. "For an already strained judiciary, this is a daunting thought."
Critics of the bill agree that victims need improved access to immediate relief, but they believe there's a better way to reach that goal.
For one, they said, New Jersey's Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act can be expanded to include offenses such as stalking, harassment, and cyber harassment. Right now, the act allows for victims to get a protective order related to sexual assault or lewdness against someone with whom there was no prior relationship.
At the conclusion of the discussion, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Brian Stack, D-Hudson, said lawmakers would consider everyone's input and post the bill for a vote at a future meeting.