In a previous post, we began discussing New Jersey's Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991, examining how it defines this offense and the various people granted protected under its provisions. Our purpose in this undertaking was not to cause undue alarm among people facing domestic violence charges, but rather to help them understand the law and the road ahead.
In keeping with this theme, today's post will take a closer look at the circumstances that must be present in order for law enforcement officials in New Jersey to make an arrest for domestic violence.
Domestic violence arrests
It may come as a surprise to learn that there are circumstances in which state law dictates that a law enforcement official must place a person under arrest on suspicion of having committed domestic violence and sign a criminal complaint.
Specifically, an arrest must be made and a signature to a criminal complaint provided wherever:
- There is a person claiming to have been a victim of violence perpetrated by a spouse, former spouse, or current/former member of the household; and
- The law enforcement official has probable cause to believe that domestic violence has occurred; and
- Any one of the following conditions are present: An arrest warrant is in effect, the victim exhibits signs of injury consistent with domestic violence, there is probable cause to believe that a restraining order has been violated, or there is probable cause to believe that a weapon was used in the commission of domestic violence.
It's important to note that law enforcement officials are similarly vested with the discretion to make domestic violence arrests and/or sign a criminal complaint even if not all of the above-referenced criteria are present. Indeed, all that is required is probable cause to believe that domestic violence has occurred.
As for those scenarios in which both parties exhibit signs of injury consistent with domestic violence, law enforcement officials are tasked with considering the following in trying to ascertain the identity of the aggressor: the extent of each person's injuries, any history of domestic violence between the two, and other "relevant factors."
As is made clear by the foregoing, there is considerable room for interpretation on the part of law enforcement officials and, by extension, for mistakes to be made.
We'll continue this discussion in a future post. In the meantime, if you are facing domestic violence charges, please consider speaking with a skilled legal professional as soon as possible as the stakes are simply too high.