Mount Holly Criminal Lawyer: Harassment Law May Need Updating
New Jersey has one state law that prohibits harassment and, until recently, another state statute that was intended to prevent bias intimidation and hate crimes by criminalizing harassment that is motivated by racial, gender, or sexual orientation bias. However, a recent state Supreme Court opinion found the bias intimidation law unconstitutional, and that ruling raises questions about remedies available to harassment and hate crime victims.
The New Jersey statute prohibiting harassment is typical of many state laws addressing the subject. It generally prohibits communications that are intended to annoy or alarm the recipient; the communications include phone calls, pages, faxes, emails, and other computer communications. It also prohibits physical contact or threats of physical contact that is intended to annoy or alarm another person. A violation of the the statute is considered a petty offense.
In 2001, the state legislation enacted a separate statute intended to prohibit bias intimidation and outlaw hate crimes. Among other things, the law prohibits harassment for the purpose of intimidating an individual or group of individuals because of race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, or ethnicity. It also prohibits harassment when the actor knows that his or her conduct would cause an individual or group of individuals to be intimidated because of race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, or ethnicity. The law allows for enhanced punishment of up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000 for each violation.
The bias intimidation law was struck down earlier this year by the New Jersey Supreme Court in a case involving a white municipal employee who was charged with a hate crime for playing a workplace prank against a co-worker. The employee and a co-worked allegedly lured an African-American co-worker into a cage with a banana, and then locked him the cage for several minutes while making racist remarks about him. The emlployee claimed the incident was a prank, but he was subsequently charged with violating the bias intimidation statute by acting with racial bias when he locked his co-worker in the cage. He was also charged under the statute with taking actions which his co-worker believed were motivated by racial bias. At trial, he was acquitted of the first charge and convicted on the second charge.
In its opinion overturning the conviction, the state Supreme Court ruled that the part of the law allowing enhanced punishment if the harassment victim believes the defendant acted with racial bias is unconstitutional because a defendant cannot know what a victim might believe or feel. It said the law was too vague and therefore violated the defendant’s due process right to know what actions are prohibited.
The state legislature may react to the high court’s ruling by amending the bias intimidation law so as to delete the offending provision, or it may decide to repeal the entire statute and reconsider its approach to bias intimidation and hate crimes.
The legislators may also want to consider the approach to hate crimes taken by other states. Some states have enacted laws prohibiting aggravated harassment, which they define as physical contact or threatened physical contact with another person that is motivated by beliefs about the person’s race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, religious practice, age, disability or sexual orientation.
If you feel that you are the victim of bias intimidation or you have been charged with harassment, you should consult an experienced criminal law lawyer.
Mount Holly Criminal Lawyers at The Law Offices of Michele Finizio Provide Aggressive Legal Representation to Individuals Charged with Harassment in NJ
With a reputation for being tenacious and results-driven, Mount Holly criminal lawyer, Michele Finizio, will evaluate the circumstances of your case and aggressively advocate on your behalf. Our offices are conveniently located in Moorestown, New Jersey and we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including the communities of Camden County, Burlington County, Gloucester County and Salem County. For a free consultation, call us at 856-599-5519 or contact us online.