People can be victims or perpetrators of harassment in various ways, including through the phone. However, the legal definition of harassment is different across jurisdictions. A clear understanding of phone harassment laws in New Jersey can keep people from unknowingly perpetrating this crime and allow victims to know the proper action to take.
Legal Definition of Harassment
Section 2C:33-4 of New Jersey's Code of Criminal Justice defines harassment. Under this law, someone may be guilty of harassment either through in-person contact or contact made through other modes of communication, including cellphones. When it comes to phone harassment laws in NJ, people may be guilty of harassment if the communication they make meets one of several possible criteria:
- It is anonymous.
- It occurs at extremely inconvenient hours.
- It uses offensively coarse language.
- It is likely to cause annoyance.
- It is likely to cause alarm.
- It involves threats to strike, kick, shove or offensively touch someone.
Examples of what may constitute as phone harassment include sending a threatening text message, making a nuisance phone call at a late hour or sending an alarming message on social media. A perpetrator may be subject to punishment for harassment in New Jersey whether the person sending or receiving the harassing communication was in New Jersey or was elsewhere when it occurred.
Punishment for Harassment in New Jersey
Phone harassment laws in NJ make harassment a petty disorderly persons offense in many cases. However, if the alleged perpetrator was imprisoned, on parole or on probation at the time of the alleged harassment, the act becomes a felony in the fourth degree.
Harassment lawyers in NJ warn that petty disorderly persons offenses carry sentences that can seriously impact a person's life, although some people may not take this type of offense as seriously as a felony. Someone who is found guilty of harassment as a petty disorderly persons offense can face up to 30 days in jail and fines of up to $500.
People who are incarcerated, on probation or on parole when they commit harassment face steeper punishments. First, they may violate the terms of their probation or parole, which can affect the original case. Secondly, at this level, the punishment for harassment in New Jersey is up to 18 months in jail.
Defenses Against Harassment Charges
Phone harassment laws in New Jersey require prosecutors to prove that defendants intended to alarm or cause annoyance to the alleged victim. Simply annoying someone is not a criminal offense, but purposefully causing annoyance is harassment. With this in mind, harassment lawyers in NJ who are defending a client may set out to prove that a defendant did not intend harm.
Furthermore, phone harassment laws in NJ require that the act cause "significant" disturbance to the alleged victim, but the law is vague on what constitutes "significant." It is a defense to harassment charges if the accused proves that the impacted person was only mildly inconvenienced.
Read More: How to File Harassment Charges For Texting
Harassment Versus Similar Charges
If someone causes significant disturbance to another person more than once, the crime may be more than harassment. Instead, the prosecution may choose to charge the alleged offender with stalking or making terroristic threats. The prosecution may also elevate the charges to these levels if the offender violates a restraining order to make contact.
Making terroristic threats is a third-degree felony with a punishment of three to five years in prison and up to $15,000 in fines. It's important to note that the term "terroristic" does not equate to the term "terrorism" as it is commonly used. Rather, it's about striking fear into a victim. Stalking may also be a third-degree crime in some cases with the same possible punishments.
Mackenzie Maxwell has always been interested in law, working with legal issues since 2010. She served in Congress for some time, as part of the communications team for Silvestre Reyes and helped constituents understand the laws on the House floor. She stayed active in local politics to understand the laws that govern her area. As a writer, Mackenzie has worked with several lawyers to create thoughtful, helpful content.