Pretrial Release and Contempt (Part 4)

by | Oct 4, 2020 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

Justice Rabner concluded in relevant part: Ultimately, a grand jury indicted the defendant for stalking as well as multiple counts of contempt for violating the court orders. Id. at 173-74. A jury convicted him, and the violations of no-contact orders provided a basis to elevate a stalking conviction to a third-degree offense. Id. at 174.

Among other arguments on appeal, the defendant claimed that violations of bail orders that contained no-contact provisions could lead only to revocation and forfeiture of his bail, not contempt charges. Id. at 188. The Court disagreed. It explained that “the no-contact orders in defendant’s bail orders did not lose their character as judicial no-contact orders merely because bail consequences could attach for their violation.” Id. at 190. The Court found that the defendant’s “flagrant violation” of the judicial no-contact orders provided an adequate basis to elevate a stalking charge and to support criminal contempt charges. Id. at 190-91.

Courts “presume that the Legislature is familiar with existing case law.” Great Atl. & Pac. Tea Co. v. Borough of Point Pleasant (1994); see also Johnson v. Scaccetti (2007) (“A well-established canon of statutory interpretation is that the Legislature ‘is presumed to be aware of judicial construction of its enactments.'” And nothing in the CJRA or its legislative history suggests the Legislature intended to overrule the prevailing law in Gandhi. As a result, defendants who violate no-contact orders that are included as conditions of release can still be prosecuted for contempt.

That principle extends beyond domestic violence cases. It applies to any order not to contact a victim or witness in domestic violence, stalking, harassment, or other matters. In addition, as noted earlier, the contempt statute specifically provides for contempt prosecutions for violations of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act, Extreme Risk Protective Order Act, and restraining orders based on a conviction for stalking, or an allegation of stalking in certain circumstances. 

Neither defendant in this appeal was charged with violating a no-contact order. Defendant McCray allegedly committed theft and credit card related fraud in violation of his release conditions; defendant Gabourel allegedly violated a curfew provision in his release order. Because those allegations did not provide a basis for criminal contempt charges, the trial judges properly dismissed them. Our ruling does not affect the other offenses charged.

In light of the dismissal of the contempt charges, we need not address defendants’ remaining arguments about lack of notice or double jeopardy. For the reasons outlined above, we reverse the judgment of the Appellate Division. We reinstate the orders of the trial court dismissing the contempt charges against both defendants.

The presumption regarding the Legislature’s awareness is based more on judicial efficiency than reality. The Legislature routinely approves laws that conflict with other laws. Even the Judiciary approves Court Rules that conflict with existing law. A recent example concerns the Court Rule regarding reciprocal discovery. It calls for certain materials to be turned over by the defense to the prosecution. Precedent has long-established that unlike the prosecution, the defense is only required to turn over the materials that it intends to use. To do otherwise would constitute the ineffective assistance of counsel.