Edward R. Weinstein, Esq.Edward R. Weinstein, Esq.

If I Am Threatened On Facebook May I Obtain A Restraining Order?

            Yes.  As New Jersey Restraining Order lawyers we are consistently introducing printouts of Facebook threats and harassment as evidence in order to prevail in obtaining a Final Restraining Order.  Below you shall find this attorney’s analysis of a recent New Jersey Appellate case that upheld the trial court’s entry of a Final Restraining Order.

            In J.M.M. v. S.A.S., defendant S.A.S. appealed from a final restraining order entered by the Superior Court of New Jersey, Family Part of Ocean County on June 11, 2014, under New Jersey Statute 2C:25-17 to -35, the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, in favor of his friend J.M.M. After a thoughtful review, the New Jersey Appellate Decision affirmed the decision of the Family Part because the appellate panel found that S.A.S.  had made a terroristic threat and committed the predicate acts of harassment. Additionally, there was substantial credible evidence to support the Family Part judge’s findings that S.A.S. had twice threatened to slit plaintiff’s throat, and J.M.M genuinely feared for her safety.

            S.A.S. and J.M.M. lived together as friends in S.A.S.’s house. One day, S.A.S. left for a business trip, and asked J.M.M. to leave her home before she departed. While S.A.S. was on the business trip, J.M.M posted a status on Facebook which read “I had no clue it was so nice out today. I need new friends and places to go that’s kid friendly.” Then J.M.M.’s friends and S.A.S. started arguing through comments on the same Facebook post. J.M.M. alleged that S.A.S. had called her and threatened that if she did not remove the Facebook post she would slit her throat. S.A.S called J.M.M. once more and told her that she would slit her throat in her sleep if she did not take her belongings out of her house in three hours. While J.M.M. stopped living at S.A.S.’s house, her personal belongings still remained there. J.M.M. claimed that S.A.S. gave her only fifteen minutes to take her things from her house, but she was not able to lift her property out of the house because she was pregnant.

            A Family Part judge held a final restraining order hearing in June of 2015, and heard testimony from S.A.S., J.M.M., and one of S.A.S.’s friends. The judge ultimately issued a final restraining order against S.A.S., and in doing so found that she had made a terroristic threat under New Jersey Statute 2C:12-3, when she told J.M.M. that she would slit her throat. The Family Part judge further found that the predicate act of harassment had occurred under New Jersey Statute 2C:33-4 when S.A.S. threatened to strike J.M.M with the purpose to harass. Consequently, the Family Part judge determined that the final restraining order was necessary to protect J.M.M. because she was genuinely scared. S.A.S. appealed the final restraining order to the New Jersey Appellate Division.

            On appeal, S.A.S. argued that the Family Part judge failed to determine there was an actual need to enter the final restraining order, and that the facts J.M.M. had provided did not establish a reasonable basis that she had committed the predicate acts of harassment and terroristic threats.

            The New Jersey Appellate Division explained that in reviewing domestic violence cases, they give significant deference to the factual findings made by a Family Part judge, and these findings are binding on appeal as long as they are supported by substantial, adequate, and credible evidence. Judicial deference to the Family Part is especially warranted when the majority of the evidence is testimony and involves credibility determinations. As such, the New Jersey Appellate Division will not change the factual findings and the legal conclusions that stem from them, unless the appellate panel is convinced that the same factual findings and legal conclusions are so clearly unsupported by or inconsistent with the relevant, competent and reasonably credible evidence that they offend the interests of justice.

            The New Jersey Appellate Division explained that when a Family Part judge decides whether or not to enter a final restraining order under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, the judge has to conduct a Silver analysis and make two determinations.  The Silver analysis is a  two part test enumerated in the 2006 New Jersey Supreme Court case of Silver v. Silver, that must be satisfied before a judge can enter a final restraining order.  According to Silver, a judge at a final restraining order hearing must: (1) determine that the victim has proved by a preponderance of the evidence, that the alleged abuser committed one or more of the predicate acts of domestic violence enumerated in New Jersey Statute 2C:25-19(a); and (2) then must determine if a final restraining order is necessary to protect the victim from future acts or threats of domestic violence. This requires a finding that the relief of a final restraining order is needed to prevent further abuse.

            It is established law that just proving that that one of the predicate acts of domestic violence established in New Jersey Statute 2C:25-19(a) occurred is not enough to automatically trigger the entrance of a domestic violence restraining order. While such a determination may be self evident, the authoritative standard is whether a restraining order is needed, according to an evaluation of the factors enumerated in New Jersey Statute 2C:25-29(a)(1) to -29(a)(6), to protect the victim from immediate danger or to prevent future abuse.

            The New Jersey Appellate Division stated that there was a significant amount of credible to support the Family Part judge’s finding that it was necessary to enter a final restraining order against S.A.S. The Family Part judge had found that J.M.M. needed to be protected because S.A.S., her supposed friend, had threatened to slit her throat twice, and she reasonably feared for her safety. The trial court had explained that S.A.S. was incredibly possessive towards J.M.M. and her daughter she had called J.M.M.’s daughter “my little girl.”

            According to New Jersey Statute 2C:33-4, harassment is defined as when a person: makes a communication anonymously or at inconvenient hours, in an offensive manner or any other manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm; strikes, kicks, shoves, or threatens to do so; engages in any other alarming conduct or repeatedly commits acts with the purpose to alarm or seriously annoy the other person; or commits a crime of the fourth degree, acting with ill will, hatred or bias, with a purpose to intimidate based on the other person’s race, color, religion, sexual orientation or ethnicity. Moreover, harassment requires that the perpetrator acted with an intent to harass the victim. In determining a perpetrator’s intent, a judge may use common sense and experience.

            According to New Jersey Statute 2C:12-3 is person is guilty of terroristic threats if he or she threatens to commit any violent crime with the purpose to terrorize another, or with the reckless disregard of the risk to cause terror, or threatens to kill another with the purpose to put that person in imminent fear of death under circumstances that reasonably cause that person to believe that the threat is immediate and there is a likelihood that it will happen.

            The New Jersey Appellate Division stated that there was substantial evidence in the record to support the Family Part judge’s finding that S.A.S. was guilty of terroristic threats and harassed J.M.M., because she had twice threatened to slit the victim’s throat, and J.M.M genuinely feared for her safety, Therefore the appellate panel affirmed the final restraining order entered by the Family Part of Ocean County.