Harassment and stalking are crimes, whether the offensive conduct occurs in person or through an electronic device. In New Jersey, telephone harassment laws are a part of the state’s general harassment and stalking statutes. The degree of the crime is no less severe because the harassment is via telephone as opposed to in person.
According to New Jersey Statute 2C:33-4, a victim can be harassed by a person over the phone. Harassment is a minor crime, considered a “petty disorderly persons offense.” A person can be convicted if he repeatedly makes telephone calls at inappropriate hours (very late at night or early in the morning), talks to the victim or leaves messages using “offensively coarse language,” or uses the telephone to make any other “annoying or alarming” communication. Telephone harassment is a more severe offense, elevated to a fourth degree felony if the harasser was in prison or on probation while making the harassing telephone calls.
Stalking is a more severe crime that still involves harassment. If a person is being harassed and is placed in circumstances where a “reasonable person” would fear for her safety, the harasser can be charged with stalking. Under New Jersey Statute 2C:12-10, stalking occurs when there is a continuous “course of conduct.” This means that the stalker repeatedly contacts his victim, either in person or through another device, including the telephone. Repeated incidents mean at least two. The stalking statute protects not only the direct victim, but also her immediate family (parents, siblings, a spouse or children). If the victim’s family also fears for their safety or if the victim or her family experience severe “emotional distress,” the harasser can be charged with a fourth degree felony. When the victim already has a protection order in place, the offense is elevated to the third degree. Stalking is also a third degree offense if: (1) the harasser has previously been convicted of harassment or staking involving the same victim or (2) the harasser committed the act while in prison, on parole or on probation.
When a harasser is convicted of stalking, under New Jersey Statute 2C:12-10.1 the judgment of conviction is automatically a request for a restraining order. The conviction is the only evidence needed for a court to issue a restraining order to protect the victim. The restraining order limits or eliminates the contact the harasser is permitted to have with the victim or the victim’s family. A New Jersey Superior Court can issue one of two permanent restraining orders. One order prevents the harasser from going to the victim’s home, job or school. The other order requires that the harasser not have any contact with the victim by any form of communication, including via telephone. The harasser is also permitted from calling the victim’s other family members, employers or fellow employees.