A domestic violence arrest often caps a mountain of personal challenges. It is not likely to improve things. People arrested on suspicion of this serious offense often decide they need help and start reaching out. The immediate legal questions can be a good place to start.

New Jersey’s definition of domestic violence is complex, and there is a vast range of possible consequences for a domestic violence conviction.

What actions count as domestic violence in New Jersey?

New Jersey lists more than a dozen crimes that count as domestic violence depending largely on how the alleged perpetrator and victim know each other.

For example, crimes such as stalking, harassment, terroristic threats, trespassing, kidnapping, sexual assault, homicide and others have their own, sometimes complex, definitions. They also can become domestic violence depending on the people involved.

What makes violence “domestic”?

For one such crime to be charged as domestic violence, the alleged perpetrator must have (or formerly have had) the following connection to the victim.

  • Household member.
  • Fellow parent or expecting parent
  • In a dating relationship.

In general, children are not charged with domestic violence. The accused must be a person must be an adult (at least 18 years old), or they can be an “emancipated minor,” meaning someone less than 18 years old but has been married, in military service, is pregnant or has a child or has been officially declared an adult at some point.

“Aggravating” circumstances may enhance sentences

Sentence fall within a standard range of punishments, sometimes called the “presumptive” sentences. In many situations, judges can choose lesser or greater sentences if “mitigating” or “aggravating” circumstances call for a “departure.”

Various crimes (stalking, harassment, trespassing, etc.) make up domestic violence, so any aggravating circumstances that can apply to them can also apply to domestic violence. But two aggravating circumstances are special to domestic violence.

  • Because of negative effects often suffered by children who witness domestic violence, harsher sentences can be imposed if a child less than 16 years old was present.
  • Because domestic violence is often not one incident but an ongoing pattern of behavior, harsher sentences can be imposed if domestic violence was committed on two or more occasions.

What may or may not counted as domestic violence and what circumstances might count as mitigating and aggravating circumstances mean major complexities occur in domestic violence cases. This is one reason a skillful and experienced defense can make a big difference the outcome of a domestic violence case.