Your downstairs neighbor claims that you are causing problems. He says you ring his doorbell when he is sleeping and make calls to his job and curse at him. You’re up in your apartment when the police show up. Based on your neighbor’s list of allegations, the police officer issues you a citation for harassment. Understandably, it takes everything you have to keep yourself in check. You wanted to scream at what you view as harassment yourself.
Have we described something similar to your situation? Know that you are not alone. Each and every day, the municipal courts are filled with litigants claiming they were harassed. In some cases, there is fear and genuine frustration. However, that’s not to say that some harassment cases aren’t purely bogus.
Unfortunately, people do not so nice things to others when they are upset. It might even impact how you decide to proceed with your neighbor’s complaint. You wouldn’t be the first or last person to march into police headquarters and file a counter-complaint. Often, it then boils down to a “he said, she said” situation.
What is Harassment?
First and foremost, you should know that the definition of harassment is found in the New Jersey Criminal Code at NJSA 2C:33-4. A person can be accused of harassment if engaging in any of these activities:
- Makes, or causes to be made, a communication or communications anonymously or at extremely inconvenient hours, or in offensively coarse language, or any other manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm;
- Subjects another to striking, kicking, shoving, or other offensive touching, or threatens to do so; or
- Engages in any other course of alarming conduct or of repeatedly committed acts with purpose to alarm or seriously annoy such other person.
In order to be convicted of these offenses, there must be a demonstration that there was an intention to harass the victim. Of importance is the degree of the crime. A person who has never been charged with an indictable crime could be found guilty of a petty disorderly persons offense. This carries a penalty of up to $500 in fines, community service, and possible incarceration.
New Jersey law places a higher standard on an individual who is imprisoned, or, on parole or probation for an indictable crime. This would result in charges of a crime of the fourth degree, which carries up to a $10,000 fine, imprisonment and community service.
In today’s day and age, a great deal of harassment manifests into online communications. You could be charged with using social media to disrupt someone else’s life. NJSA 2C:33-4.1 provides clear guidelines on what constitutes cyber-harassment. Everything from intimidation to lewd exchanges can fall under the auspices of cyber-harassment.
What Should You Do?
In some municipal courts, you may be called to community dispute resolution upon a complaint of harassment. Although you are not obligated to compromise with the other party, it may be worth it to go through the process. Your attorney is permitted to accompany you to the mediation hearing.
Cases that involve domestic violence are not subject to community dispute mediation and are not heard at the municipal level. Whether your case is called to municipal or superior court, you should consult with an attorney with experience handling harassment complaints.
We Want to Help
At the Law Offices of Beninato & Matrafaljo, we have experience representing individuals charged with harassment. We will gladly accompany you to court and act as your representative. Contact us to schedule an appointment.