By: Shari Lee Genser, Esq.
Domestic violence cases involving allegations of stalking must be carefully analyzed under the law to determine whether a restraining order is warranted. Domestic violence has a strict definition under the laws of the State of New Jersey. Victims of domestic violence are afforded significant protections under our law and domestic violence offenders are subject to severe consequences following a finding that an act of domestic violence has occurred and a restraining order is warranted.
In order for an incident to be defined as domestic violence, the parties to the incident must first meet the relationship requirements of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA). Upon meeting the relationship requirements of the PDVA, the incident must next be analyzed to determine if the facts alleged meet the definition of one of the specifically defined offenses that have been classified as domestic violence pursuant to the PDVA. Finally, the facts must be analyzed to determine whether a restraining order is necessary to protect the alleged victim from an immediate danger or to prevent further abuse.
One of the specific offenses that has been classified as domestic violence pursuant to the PDVA is stalking, which is defined at N.J.S.A. 2C:12-10(b) as follows:
A person is guilty of stalking…if he purposefully or knowingly engages in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear for his safety or the safety of a third person or suffer other emotional distress.
N.J.S.A. 2C:12-10(a) further defines the various elements of stalking as follows:
- "Course of conduct" means repeatedly maintaining a visual or physical proximity to a person; directly or indirectly, or through third parties, by any action, method, device, or means, following, monitoring, observing, surveilling, threatening, or communicating to or about a person, or interfering with a person's property; repeatedly committing harassment against a person; or repeatedly conveying, or causing to be conveyed, verbal or written threats or threats conveyed by any other means of communication or threats implied by conduct of a combination thereof directed at or toward a person.
- "Repeatedly" means on two or more occasions.
- "Emotional distress" means significant suffering or distress.
- "Cause a reasonable person to fear" means to cause fear which a reasonable victim, similarly situated, would have under the circumstances.
The March 2019 unpublished Appellate Division case of L.G. v. T.G. explored the question of whether a private investigator’s placement of a GPS tracking device on the vehicle of your spouse can be classified as domestic violence pursuant to the PDVA. In that case, the defendant argued that his authorization for his father to retain a private investigator to place a GPS on his spouse’s vehicle did not constitute stalking because he did not personally install the device, but rather, indirectly and through a third-party, he monitored, observed and surveilled the whereabouts of his spouse. The trial court found this behavior to constitute stalking, which necessitated the entry of a Final Restraining Order, and the Appellate Division affirmed.
Spouses, former spouses, co-parents and parties to a current or former dating relationship may be tempted to engage a private investigator to gather information about their current or former partner for use in litigation of custody or financial disputes. Private investigators can be a valuable tool for parties to a litigation as they are experienced information gatherers who can potentially obtain useful information outside of the firsthand knowledge of the party retaining them. However, you must proceed with caution in this regard, as the domestic violence laws are construed broadly to provide victims with the maximum available protection from abuse. Conducting surveillance through a private investigator may result in a party being accused of violations of the PDVA if the investigator employs a GPS device to track the movements of other party.