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Burkert Limits Definition of Harassment

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Many domestic violence cases center around allegations of harassment.  Harassment is defined as engaging in a course of conduct intended to alarm or seriously annoy another person.  To successfully obtain a final restraining order, not only must the alleged victim prove a predicate act of domestic violence, such as harassment, they must also prove that they are in fear of the defendant and need a final restraining order for protection.

Harassment has been defined pretty broadly and courts have sought to err on the side of caution to appropriately protect victims of domestic violence.

However, the Supreme Court, in the recent Burkert case, has narrowed the definition of harassment.  The Court held that certain free speech is protected by the United States and New Jersey Constitutions, and as such, is not harassment.  The Court held that the definition of harassment was not intended to protect against the common stresses, shocks, and insults of life that come from responses to crude remarks and offensive expressions, teasing, rumor managing, and general inappropriate behavior.

The Court explained that to be harassment, there must be repeated communications directed at a person that reasonably put that person in fear for their safety or security, or that intolerably interferes with their reasonable expectation of privacy.  The Court indicated examples of harassment would be that a person, every day, over the course of a week, repeatedly yells outside an ex-partner’s house during the night; or repeatedly follows closely next to a woman importuning her for a date or making other unwanted comments, despite her constant requests to stop.

If you are a victim of domestic violence, or in need of representation defending a domestic violence matter, we are here to help.  If you have any questions or concerns about this post or any other matrimonial/family law issue, please do not hesitate to contact me at jllawrence@nmmlaw.com.