Harassment is a very common charge. It often results out of domestic disputes and arguments between neighbors. Harassment is almost always listed as one of the predicated acts on temporary restraining orders and while very broad in its language, has not been found unconstitutionally vague by the courts.
Harassment is defined in N.J.S.A 2C:33-4. It is a petty disorderly person’s offense punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $500.00 fine. In the event that the person committing the offense was in prison, on parole, or on probation for an indictable offense (4th degree or higher) it is a crime of the 4th degree It prohibits three types of behavior if they are done with the purpose to harass or annoy:
1. Makes or causes to be made communication or communications anonymously or at extremely inconvenient hours, or in offensively coarse language or any other manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm.
The first point specifically refers to a communication. It does not matter how the communication was made, just that it was in fact a communication. It must also be made at an unreasonable hour (e.g. very late at night) offensively course language (e.g. cursing) or in am manor likely to cause annoyance or alarm (e.g. threatening language). Note that this first point does not require repeated conduct. A single act can be enough for a conviction on this point.
2. Subjects another to striking, kicking, shoving or other offensive touching, or threatens to do so.
The second point specifically prohibits striking, kicking, shoving, or offensive touching. This differs from assault in that it does not require the touching cause or attempt to cause bodily injury (e.g. pain, Physical illness, or impairment.) this also differs from assault in that the intent must be done with intent to harass. (Simple assault requires purposefully knowingly or recklessly or attempting to causing bodily injury.)
3. Engages in any other course of alarming conduct or repeatedly committed acts with purpose to alarm or seriously annoy such other persons.
The third point can be distinguished from the first point in several ways. The action does not have to be a communication of any sort. It also must be done repeatedly. A single instance will not be enough. Also note that the purpose has been changed to alarm or seriously annoy. This means the conduct must be more annoying than the communications prohibited in point 1, though it is not certain how much
The conduct only needs to meet the standard outlined in one of the three points. Each one is a separate offense. The state will not have to prove all three elements for a conviction
It is important to note that the person must commit the act with a purpose to harass or annoy. A common defense to this charge is that the person had no intent to harass or annoy but some other intention; Scolding or disciplining a child, trying to collect information about ones children, or to trying to collect a money judgment for example. Another defense that has been used successfully is that the communication or action was made in frustration at the situation and not directed at the individual.
Charged with Harassment
If you have been charged with harassment don’t simply accept your fate and take the prosecutors offer without representation. There is a whole host of legal options and defenses which may be available to you based on your specific situation. Call my office at (732) 742-5556. I will be happy to discuss your case with you. As always, first consultations are free.