Sexual Assaults and Restraining Orders (Part 3)

by | Feb 3, 2019 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The Court continued: Thus, SASPA protects victims of unwanted sexual contact or lewd acts or attempts to commit the same. A person cannot seek protection against words, threats, or sexual harassment alone under SASPA. Here, the trial court found plaintiff’s account credible and defendant admitted speaking to her. It is clear plaintiff felt threatened by the encounters and the court was concerned for the future risk to plaintiff’s safety and well-being; however, there is no evidence defendant made or attempted to make physical contact with plaintiff. Thus, the question is whether defendant’s 2005 sexual assault can be the basis of a SASPA order. We conclude it cannot.

“Generally, newly enacted laws are applied prospectively.” Johnson v. Roselle EZ Quick LLC (2016). “This approach is based on long-held notions of fairness and due process.” Ibid. (quoting Cruz v. Cent. Jersey Landscaping, Inc. (2008)). One can overcome this presumption by demonstrating the Legislature intended retroactive application. The question then becomes whether enforcement of a retroactive law will “unconstitutionally interfere with ‘vested rights’ or will result in a ‘manifest injustice.'” Ibid. (quoting Twiss v. State (1991)).

Legislative intent of retroactivity can be shown: “(1) when the Legislature expresses its intent that the law applies retroactively, either expressly or implicitly; (2) when an amendment is curative; or (3) when the expectations of the parties so warrant.” Ardan v. Bd. of Review (2018) (quoting James v. N.J. Mfrs. Ins. Co. (2014)). At least one source of intent must be shown before a statute can be given retroactive effect. Legislative intent may be observed expressly in the statute or implicitly in legislative history showing retroactive application is “the most sensible interpretation.” “A statute is curative ‘if it is designed to merely carry out or explain the intent of the original statute,’ in that its purpose is ‘to remedy a perceived imperfection in or misapplication of a statute and not to alter the intended scope or purposes of the original act.'” Ibid. (alteration in original) (quoting Nelson v. Bd. of Educ. (1997)). In absence of legislative intent, courts should examine whether the parties expected the law to apply retroactively.

The caselaw begs the question of when the parties would ever expect a new law to apply retroactively in the absence of the Legislature’s express statement of retroactive application. This is especially true in light of the cited caselaw with regard to “newly enacted laws are generally applied prospectively.”