So imagine this timeline: You’re a little less than a month away from Valentine’s Day and you have been dating someone for a little while. In anticipation of that day and probably to save some money, you order flowers to be delivered to him or her well ahead of the Valentine’s Day rush. Then, the whole thing goes south. You begin fighting. Words are exchanged. Someone takes something a little too personal and just like that it’s over just a few days prior to the big day. Then, that person you thought so highly of and made sure he or she was getting a nice floral arrangement decides to gift you with a Temporary Restraining Order. You’re so upset by not only the demise of the relationship and having to defend yourself against a TRO that you completely forget about the flower delivery destined for the TRO-holder’s door on February 14th. Then, when Valentine’s Day actually arrives, BOOM, the confirmation email: “So&So has received your delivery.” GULP. Your heart drops to the floor, your mind begins to race. “Am I in trouble?” “When did I order those flowers?” “Did I just violate a TRO?” “Am I going to jail?”
This is precisely the scenario detailed in State of New Jersey v. J.T., where the County Prosecutor decided that this person actually committed a crime. The State contended that the Defendant violated the portion of his TRO providing, “You are prohibited from having any oral, written, personal, electronic, or other form of contact or communication with the Plaintiff.” The State further inexplicably argued that the Defendant had the opportunity and obligation to cancel the delivery after being served with the TRO, which he did not, and as such, he was guilty of contempt.
Fortunately, the Family Court Judge to whom this scenario was presented did not see it that way and the Defendant was acquitted. Specifically, the Court held that the Defendant did not violate N.J.S.A. 2C:29-9b (Contempt) because he did not knowingly or purposely violate the TRO. Furthermore, the Court held that the Defendant could not be held responsible for failing to cancel order because no such language exists in the TRO. The Court stated, “Since the TRO did not notify defendant that he was obligated to attempt to recall any communications to the protected party he may have initiated prior to service of the TRO, that were not yet delivered, the addition of such a requirement after the fact would be an improper basis for conviction.” A sound decision under the law, but TRO defendants be warned—this was a close call.
If you ever find yourself in this position be sure to check your potential deliveries. Also, be sure to check the language of your TRO. You can probably count on some language being added to future TROs that envision this type of scenario. In any event, be sure to keep your attorney informed of potential pitfalls in your case so he or she can be better prepared to help you. As always, the attorneys at Ziegler & Resnick are here to help you through what can be a difficult and stressful process in defending against a TRO.