Pretrial Release and Contempt (Part 3)

by | Oct 1, 2020 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The Court continued in relevant part: In both rulings, the Appellate Division discussed remedies other than contempt under the respective statutory schemes. See Williams (revocation of probation and resentencing under N.J.S.A. 2C:45-3(a); S.S. (enforcement of litigant’s rights under N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-86). To the extent the analysis in those cases applies here, it does not undermine our conclusion.

No-contact orders under the CJRA are treated differently. Violations of such orders can be prosecuted under the contempt statute. The CJRA empowers judges to direct defendants on pretrial release to “avoid all contact with an alleged victim of the crime” and “with all witnesses.” N.J.S.A. 2A:162-17(b)(1)(b), (b)(1)(c). Trial courts, of course, had that same authority before the CJRA went into effect. And prior case law established that no-contact orders entered as part of a bail proceeding could be enforced through criminal contempt charges. 

Gandhi, decided by this Court in 2010, plainly set forth that principle. Id. at 190-91. In that case, the defendant was obsessed with a woman and repeatedly violated judicial no-contact orders. After a harassment complaint was filed against him in municipal court and the judge directed him not to have any contact with the victim, he showed up at the young woman’s home. Id. at 171-72. His conduct prompted another harassment complaint, after which he again violated the court’s order by telephoning the family residence and showing up there. Id. at 172. The police arrested him, and a municipal court judge set bail the next day with the following condition: “no victim contact, no return to scene.” Id. at 173.

While on release, the defendant “resumed sending sexually explicit and physically threatening messages to” the victim by mail. Bail was revoked, he was jailed, and a judge increased his bail and expanded the no-contact order. The defendant then sent the victim 142 pages of handwritten letters with graphic and disturbing content. 

The Court’s reasoning demonstrates that importance of defendants not having contact with witnesses in their case. Prosecutors’ offices do not hesitate to bring witness tampering charges for such contact even when a defendant is trying to honestly assist with his own defense. The much smarter and safer path is to use the services of an investigator to contact witnesses.