Under New Jersey’s Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, Is Installing A GPS Tracking Device On Your Ex’s Car Considered Stalking?

Stalking is a predicate act under New Jersey's Prevention of Domestic Violence Act.  New Jersey Family Court’s strive to protect all victims of stalking, particularly by granting restraining orders when necessary. While most people are familiar with traditional idea of stalking, following someone around, stalking can occur in other forms as well. As a New Jersey divorce and family lawyer, it is essential to that my law firm is familiar with the plethora of case law addressing this national epidemic.   Today we shall discuss how New Jersey’s Appellate Division addressed the issue of stalking and domestic violence in the case of L.A.V.H. v. R.J.V.H.  Let’s explore.

In the case, the parties were divorced in July 2009.  In October 2009, the plaintiff thus obtained a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the defendant.  Shortly thereafter, the parties entered into a consent order which imposed civil restraints and she dismissed the TRO.  Among the restraints, the defendant consented to not stalk, follow or threaten to harm, stalk or follow the plaintiff.  These are known as "civil restraints."  Soon after the plaintiff started seeing Matthew DiLeo. When the defendant found that out her ex-husband installed a GPS tracking device on a car that DiLeo owned and the plaintiff drove.  After this discovery, she once again obtained a TRO, hired a family law lawyer familiar with domestic violence trials, and proceeded with a final restraining order (FRO) hearing.  

DiLeo was called to testify before the trial court. On May 21, 2010 while driving his car he hit a pothole, heard something fall off of his car, and saw a black box bouncing in the road. He got out of his car and opened the box. He then asked a friend who was a police officer to look at it and he confirmed that it was a GPS tracking device.  Soon after the incident DiLeo found another GPS device attached to the bottom of his car. He filed a complaint with the local police department. The plaintiff testified that she did not file her temporary restraining order until July 18, 2010 after she found out about the GPS devices. By that point she not only felt threatened, but also that it would be in her best interest to get another restraint put in place.     

In addition to DiLeo, a licensed private investigator testified that the defendant hired him for his services. Although he did not specifically state what he was hired to do, the investigator did acknowledge telling the defendant that he was familiar with GPS tracking devices. The defendant also testified as a hostile witness. Among other things, he denied his discussion with the investigator about using a GPS on DiLeo’s car. He also stated that he only hired the investigator to see if his ex-wife was living with DiLeo.

Ultimately the defendant moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s claim that he was stalking her; however, the judge denied the motion. The judge found that his conduct met the statutory definition of stalking pursuant to New Jersey law. In particular, the judge held that the defendant acted “covertly with the intention of not having the plaintiff find out about his behavior.” As a result, the trial judge granted a final restraining order to protect the plaintiff from future harm. The defendant appealed.

On appeal, the defendant alleged that since his conduct was directed toward DiLeo and not the plaintiff, the judge erred in finding that his behavior rose to the level of stalking under New Jersey law. The Appellate Division affirmed the findings of the lower court. It first looked to the applicable New Jersey statute, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-10(b). Pursuant to the statute, stalking is defined as “purposely or knowingly engaging in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear for her safety or the safety of a third person or suffer other emotional distress.”

The plaintiff was clear in her testimony that she felt unsafe and threatened by the defendant putting a GPS device on DiLeo’s car and the Appellate Division agreed. The Court held that the defendant’s conduct did equate to stalking because he “followed, monitored and/or surveilled” DiLeo. Furthermore, the defendant acted covertly so the plaintiff would not discover his behavior. The Court stated that acting covertly embodied the very nature of stalking.

While the Court did not believe that the defendant’s behavior rose to the level of harassment, it did rise to the predicate act of stalking.  It is important to keep in mind that the facts of the case were considered in depth before the court rendered its final decision.  If you feel like you or a loved one are in a similar situation, please do not hesitate to contact my office to discuss your options. Thank you.