In 1992, the New Jersey Legislature passed its first law prohibiting stalking. Stalking is closely linked to domestic violence cases. Stalking means engaging in a course of repeated acts such as lurking or following the alleged victim, or threats, or interfering with property. The course of conduct must be undertaken with criminal intent against a specific person, such as an ex-spouse or paramour. The State must prove that the accused person acted in such a manner that a reasonable person would fear for her safety or the safety of another person.
The statute also bars conduct that causes the victim to suffer emotional distress. This presents unique problems for the defense since the prosecution may not need expert medical testimony to prove mental distress.
Stalking is a fourth degree crime, calling for a potential sentence of eighteen months in prison. If the accused is on probation, or parole at the time of the commission of the crime, or if the stalking violates an existing restraining order, then the crime is of the third degree with a maximum of five years incarceration.
A thorough history of the client’s relationship with the alleged victim is an important tool. Psychologists and investigators also play a major role in the attorney’s defense strategy. Clearly, a criminal defense lawyer is essential to navigate a stalking case and steer his client to the safe harbor of acquittal.