Is It Harassment If My Ex-Girlfriend Calls Me Hundreds Of Times?
Yes. Under New Jersey’s Prevention of Domestic Violence Act repeated phone calls from an ex-girlfriend would place our lawyers in a position to successfully argue your case in the Family Part of the Superior Court of New Jersey. Specifically, the attorneys at our law firm would argue that you had every reason to be fearful for your (and in the case discussed below, your family’s) welfare and safety due to the ex-girlfriend’s harassing behavior.
In A.W. v. N.M., the parties began having an affair while both married to other people. The affair lasted for approximately five months before A.W. ended the relationship with N.M. A.W. told N.M. that he intended to tell his wife about the affair and that he no longer wished to have any contact with N.M. in the future. Following the break-up, N.M. called A.W. on his home, cell, and work phone hundreds of times. A.W. claims that N.M. called him and pretended to be an employee from his child’s daycare so that A.W. would pick up her call. A.W. also stated that N.M. sent A.W.’s wife inappropriate and offensive text messages and that N.M. went to A.W.’s home insisting on speaking to A.W.’s wife. A.W. also stated that he once saw N.M. follow him and his family in their car and that during this incident, N.M. got out of her car at a red light, ran to A.W.’s car, and started screaming and banging on the windows. A.W. also explained that he saw N.M. near his home the following day, and watched N.M. follow him to his child’s daycare where she allegedly slashed his tire. A.W. reported both incidents to the police.
A.W. was granted a temporary restraining order (“TRO”), which temporarily prohibits N.M. from contacting or communicating with A.W. in any form. Although N.M. was provided a copy of the TRO, she continued to call A.W. at his place of employment. In January 2016, the parties entered into a consent agreement, which prevented N.M. from interacting or communicating with A.W. or his family in any way. The consent agreement also stated that N.M. was prohibited from being within 100 feet of A.W. or his family. N.M. continued to contact A.W. even though she agreed not to in the consent agreement. N.M. continuously called A.W. at work from a blocked number and breathed heavily into the phone, remained silent when A.W. answered, or hung-up before A.W. answered the call. N.M. also sent photos of herself wearing a bikini to A.W.’s work email. On Valentine’s Day, N.M. sent cards and hot chocolate to A.W. at work.
Despite letters from A.W.’s attorney to N.M.’s attorney warning that if N.M. continued to contact A.W., he would file for another TRO, N.M. continued calling A.W. On February 24, 2016, A.W. was granted another TRO against N.M. on the basis of stalking and harassment. N.M. continued to contact and communicate with A.W. despite the second TRO and was recorded on store surveillance purchasing a phone that she used to call A.W. over fifty times at work. A.W. reported N.M.’s violations of the TRO and consent agreement to the police, and N.M. was subsequently arrested and charged with contempt under N.J.S.A. 2C:29-9(b) and harassment under N.J.S.A. 2:C:33-4(a).
During the trial in March and May 2016, A.W. offered evidence of N.M.’s constant phone calls that occurred before and after the consent agreement was entered. A.W. also presented evidence of the inappropriate text messages sent to A.W.’s wife and the security footage of N.M. purchasing the phone, as well as footage of N.M. mailing packages to A.W.’s work, and a witness who saw N.M. at the daycare. N.M. admitted making some of the phone calls and sending some of the text messages and packages but denies using the phone she purchased to call A.W., and denies slashing A.W.’s tire. On May 25, 2016, the trial judge found that N.M. violated the consent agreement and that she made hundreds of calls to A.W., as well as sent him packages. The trial judge held that under prior cases and the harassment statute,N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4(a), N.M. did not engage in conduct to purposely annoy or harm A.W. because her actions did not threaten A.W. or his family.
On appeal, the New Jersey Appellate Division reversed the decision of the trial court. The Appellate Division agreed with A.W. that the trial court was mistaken in holding that A.W. failed to demonstrate the predicate act of harassment. A predicate act is a previous crime that is related to the crime or offense being alleged. In New Jersey, some predicate acts under N.J.S.A. 2C:25-19(a) include stalking, harassment, criminal mischief, and sexual assault. The Appellate Division noted that it is bound by the factual findings of the trial court unless the facts are clearly unsupported by reliable evidence. However, the Appellate Division further noted that it is not bound by the trial court’s finding of legal issues that stem from the case facts. The Appellate Division evaluated the facts under Silver v. Silver, which states that a predicate act, such as harassment, has occurred and that a final restraining order (“FRO”) is needed to protect the victim from future harm or abuse. The court stated that under N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4(a) and the New Jersey Supreme Court case, State v. Hoffman, that to find harassment, the court must find that the abuser intentionally communicated with the victim in an offensive manner, threatened to harm the victim physically, or engaged in repeated and alarming acts against the victim. The Appellate Division further stated that annoyance is defined as hassle, disturb, or aggravate.
Ultimately, the court found that the trial court decision should be reversed because N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4(a) and case law do not indicate that the abuser’s conduct must be threatening to establish harassment. The Appellate Division found that A.W. presented plenty of evidence to establish that the first prong of Silver was met when N.M. harassed A.W. by intentionally or purposely engaging in conduct meant to annoy or intimidate A.W. and his family, such as hundreds of phone calls, inappropriate text messages, following A.W.’s family, and sending multiple packages to A.W. Since the trial court wrongly determined that the first prong of the Silver test was not met, the Appellate Division reversed and sent the case back to the lower court to determine if an FRO is necessary to protect A.W. and his family from future harm or abuse, although it noted that it is confident that an FRO is necessary.
Contact us online or give us a call at (732) 246-0909. We can help you determine if you need a temporary or final restraining order if your ex-girlfriend is harassing you thorough her cellular phone.