Criminal Coercion Lawyers in Morris County NJ
Morristown Attorneys Challenging Criminal Coercion Charges and Domestic Violence Protection Orders
By definition, the word “coercion” alone refers to someone influencing another person through intimidation or physical violence. In the context of N.J.S.A. 2C:13-5, a person can be convicted of criminal coercion if he or she acted in a way that restricts the freedom of another. What does restricting someone’s freedom mean? Pursuant to the statute, a suspect may have threatened or coerced a person through accusations, physical injury, spreading falsities to impact the individual’s reputation and more. The statute specifically highlights seven acts that could result in the accused being charged contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:13-5.
Conduct that qualifies as criminal coercion includes:
- Committing an offense against someone or causing bodily injury;
- Accusing someone of an offense;
- Threatening to disclose private information to damage someone’s personal or professional reputation;
- Using official office unlawfully against someone or making an official do something or not do something;
- Inciting a strike, boycott, or similar actions by a group when not in the interests of collective negotiating
- Testifying against someone or refusing to testify in someone else’s favor in a case
- Taking any other actions that are not for the actor’s benefit, but instead, are intended to cause significant harm to someone else’s well-being
All of these actions can lead to criminal coercion charges if they are used for the purposes of restricting someone else’s freedom to choose or act per their own will. If it can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant threatened an individual and that he or she intentionally, or with purpose, acted to restrict another’s freedom, then the defendant will be convicted of this crime.
Jail Time and Other Penalties for Criminal Coercion in New Jersey
If found guilty, a defendant convicted of criminal coercion will be left with a felony on his or her record. Depending on the facts of the case, he or she will face a third or fourth degree crime conviction. While both levels of the crime are very serious, a third degree crime will lead to more time behind bars and higher penalties than a fourth degree crime would. Under the statute, the difference between the degrees of this offense lies in whether the defendant acted with a criminal purpose. In other words, if he or she acted with intent or threatened to commit a more severe offense than already indicated within the statute, then the defendant will be charged and/or convicted of the third degree crime. Each degree of the offense carries its own minimum and maximum fines, time and penalties.
- Fourth degree criminal coercion carries up to 18 months of incarceration time and a fine not to exceed $10,000
- Third degree criminal coercion carries 3 to 5 years of imprisonment and a fine up to $15,000
Affirmative Defense for 2C:13-5
The statute indicates that if a defendant believed the accusation or threat to be true, then it could be an affirmative defense against the State’s allegations. An affirmative defense means that a defendant could introduce evidence showing that despite it being proven that the defendant committed the offense, the evidence shown refutes it. Moreover, if the State cannot prove that the defendant actually threatened someone else, then this offense cannot be proven. It is important to explore this with an attorney to determine what defenses, if any, are available to you.
Common Ways People get Charged with Criminal Coercion in NJ
There are many ways someone can be charged with criminal coercion so long as another individual is threatened or prevented from doing something. For example, if a husband sends a text message to his wife saying one of these statements it can easily be demonstrated that the defendant purposefully threatened someone else: “I am going to kill you or your mother if you report me to the police or go to file a restraining order,” “I will run away with our children and you will never see them again if you even think of divorcing me,” “I saw the way you looked at the neighbor and I will kill him if you call the cops or don’t do what I say,” or “I will send explicit photos of you to your entire office if you leave me.” By simple variations of these facts alone, criminal coercion can be found within at least five subsections of the statute.
Frequently, criminal coercion can also be found in conjunction with other crimes. For instance, witness tampering and criminal coercion often go hand in hand with one another. The crime of witness tampering can occur when a person interferes with an investigation or proceeding that would result in causing someone else to testify falsely or withhold testimony or information. In cases of final restraining order hearings, a defendant may threaten a plaintiff into not telling the truth by intimidating the plaintiff with fear for his or her safety or that of another person. This fear may result in the plaintiff giving untruthful testimony about allegations of domestic violence or a prior history.
The Connection between Criminal Coercion and Domestic Violence Restraining Orders
Criminal coercion commonly goes along with domestic violence charges for terroristic threats, false imprisonment, harassment and more. How can that be so? Usually when offenses carry similar elements, the line becomes blurred regarding what conduct constitutes another. For cases like criminal coercion, a defendant is threatening a person to not speak out or act. Essentially, the defendant is placing a control over someone else by taking away his or her ability to act freely. That is the same thing with many domestic violence offenses. An offender endangers someone to the point that places him or her in imminent fear or causes physical injury. Likewise, false imprisonment is when a person restrains or controls someone to the point where his or her sense of self or autonomy are interfered with. Ultimately, these offenses are parallel to one another in that a defendant controlled or placed a victim to be intimidated or fearful.
Additionally, criminal coercion can be found as a predicate act of domestic violence to trigger the issuance of a restraining order. A restraining order is not a criminal charge. Restraining Orders are governed by a different division of the Court and are classified as civil in nature, even though frequently an offense that will lead to a restraining order can be pursued criminally. A crime or offense in New Jersey can lead to jail time, fines and penalties. A restraining order prevents another person from contacting someone else indefinitely once a restraining order becomes final. Thus, restraining orders and crimes/offenses in New Jersey do not have the same implications as one another. However, a violation of a restraining order could also lead to criminal charges against a defendant. Therefore, a restraining order, although it is not criminal in nature, can lead a defendant into the criminal justice system.
Moreover, for a temporary restraining order to be granted, there needs to be a special relationship between the parties; the fear for his or her safety; and the ability to point to one or more examples (aka. a pattern or history) of domestic violence. Sometimes, individuals use criminal coercion as a grounds for a restraining order because of the defendant’s threats. Whether it be through forcing you to do something you don’t want to do or threatening to harm you or a third party that is close to you, the threats and intimidation can warrant the issuance of a restraining order.
Are you facing criminal coercion charges in Morris County NJ? Have you been served with a restraining order citing criminal coercion and called to appear in Morristown? Or are you the victim of criminal coercion and need immediate protection through a restraining order? Contact our Morristown law office today for immediate assistance.
You can consult an attorney free of charge and confidentially by contacting us online or calling (908) 336-5008.