Are Harassing Text Messages Enough To Obtain A Final Restraining Order?
Yes. The domestic violence attorneys at our law firm embrace that text messages that fall under harassment as per New Jersey’s Prevention of Domestic Violence Act may constitute enough proof and evidence that a Final Restraining Order is required. In breaking down this recent case this lawyer illustrates what type of text messages constitute harassment under New Jersey law.
In M.Y. v. G.C., the parties were married in October 2011. The parties divorced five years later after M.Y. filed a complaint with the Superior Court of New Jersey Family Part in March 2016. At the time she filed for divorce, M.Y. also filed for a temporary restraining order against G.C. M.Y. stated in her complaint for a restraining order that G.C. had harassed her by calling and texting her repeatedly. M.Y. claimed the calls and texts continued for about four days beginning on March 3, 2016 and were threatening and harassing.
At the final restraining order hearing, the parties agreed that there was no prior history of domestic violence during the parties’ relationship. G.C. acknowledged that he sent all of the alleged text messages to M.Y. and that he continuously tried to speak with her. G.C. stated that he was trying to speak to M.Y. to get closure about her reasons for the divorce. M.Y. testified at the hearing that G.C. sent her hundreds of text messages over the course of the four days after she filed for divorce. M.Y. stated that G.C.’s messages originally discussed the potential for the parties to meet to discuss the divorce, but when M.Y. was hesitant to meet, G.C.’s messages became hostile. G.C. then sent M.Y. nude images of herself that G.C. had saved on his phone. G.C. also sent M.Y. images of his bloody stool and threatened to send the photos to M.Y.’s family and friends. M.Y. stated that G.C. also threatened to cause harm to M.Y.’s family. Lastly, G.C. sent M.Y. text messages regarding M.Y.’s immigration status, specifically about the possibility of having M.Y.’s green card revoked.
M.Y. testified that she was afraid of the messages that G.C. sent. She stated that the messages kept her awake and made her feel sick. M.Y. also stated that she, at one point, stopped responding to G.C.’s messages, but G.C. continued to post things to Facebook. G.C. also continued to send messages to M.Y. even after she obtained the temporary restraining order. M.Y. informed the police that G.C. was still contacting her, and she testified that she was surprised he was engaging in that behavior.
The trial court judge granted M.Y. a final restraining order after finding that M.Y. was credible and believable while G.C. was not. The judge looked to N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4(a) to determine if G.C. committed the predicate act of harassment. A predicate act is a former crime or wrongdoing similar to the one being alleged. The judge found that G.C.’s actions constituted harassment because G.C. sent M.Y. hundreds of messages over a four-day period with the intent to annoy or alarm her. The judge also concluded that a final restraining order was necessary to protect M.Y. from future harm or abuse. The judge determined a final restraining order was necessary because of the continuous nature of the messages even after M.Y. obtained a temporary restraining order. The judge ultimately decided that a final restraining order was necessary to protect M.Y.’s well being against G.C.’s continuous attempts at communication.
On appeal, G.C. claimed that there was not enough evidence presented during the final restraining order hearing for the judge to find that harassment had occurred or that a final restraining order was necessary, especially since there was no history of domestic violence during the parties’ relationship. The New Jersey Appellate Division stated that it will not overturn a trial judge’s decision when it is supported by credible and adequate evidence. The Appellate Division also stated that it gives deference to the trial court’s findings because of its expertise in family matters, especially in domestic violence proceedings where the credibility of testimony needs to be determined.
The Appellate Division agreed with the trial court and affirmed its decision. The court reasoned that the trial judge properly evaluated the facts under the two-prong test of Silver. The Appellate Division noted that the trial court determined that a predicate act, harassment, had occurred because of the repeated nature of the harassing conduct. Furthermore, the Appellate Division found that the trial judge was correct to determine, based on the evidence that G.C. intended to harass M.Y. by sending the messages. The court also agreed that a final restraining order was necessary to protect M.Y. from future harm or violence. Lastly, the Appellate Division noted that the trial judge was not obligated to find a prior history of domestic violence during the parties’ relationship because a single act can establish domestic violence.