Any victim of domestic violence needs immediate relief before addressing the situation on a permanent basis. This is why NJ law includes a two-step restraining order process. Temporary Restraining Orders (TROs) provide a first step that requires very little evidence, but Final Restraining Orders (FROs) set a higher standard of evidence.
Still, even though domestic violence requires establishment of a “predicate act,” such as assault or harassment which are criminal offenses, a defendant can be found to have committed an act of domestic violence without requiring the same level of evidence that is normally mandated for criminal cases.
Standards of Evidence Differ Between Criminal and Civil Cases
Anyone who watches courtroom dramas has probably heard lawyers use one of two terms when presenting their cases to juries:
- The term, beyond a reasonable doubt generally applies to criminal cases and it tells jurors that they cannot enter a guilty verdict unless the evidence is strong enough to leave them without any reasonable uncertainty that the defendant is guilty.
- The term, preponderance of evidence, which is common to civil cases, such as personal injury or family law, sets a lower standard. Juries can find defendants culpable when they believe that more evidence justifies a guilty finding than any evidence that does not support it.
It may seem surprising that cases for FROs that involve criminal charges pertaining to domestic abuse, follow the lower preponderance of evidence standard. However, each Denville family attorney at our firm understands the importance of this lower standard — in spite of the potentially-harsh consequences to an individual who may be permanently removed from home and family, or be subject to other penalties such as suspension of professional licenses.
NJ Family Courts Preside Over FRO Hearings
Keeping in mind that domestic violence, as defined by N.J. Statutes, can only legally occur when both parties lived together currently or in the past in specifically-defined capacities, or had a “dating relationship,” consider just a few of the criminal offenses that qualify as domestic abuse under NJ law:
- Criminal restraint
- Sexual assault
While some of these offenses can be proven with physical evidence, others generally require compelling witness testimony. Of course, when witnesses are not available, court cases become he said-she said situations.
However, while they pertain to criminal offenses, FRO hearings are not the same as criminal trials. While separate criminal proceedings are a real possibility, the overall purpose of FRO hearings is to provide permanent protection to victims of domestic violence.
FRO hearings are held before judges, rather than juries. Because of their experience with these types of cases, family law judges in particular have the skills to put emotions aside to arrive at more accurate verdicts.
Although the NJ system for handling FRO hearings is designed to be as fair as possible, the results of these cases can have a profound and permanent effect on both parties, as well as on all family members. The domestic violence attorneys at Riordan Family Law have broad experience on both sides of the aisle. Both domestic violence victims and individuals who are accused can obtain skilled support by calling us or using our convenient online contact form.