Criminal Coercion, in its simplest terms, is a threat of some sort of harm for the purpose of compelling someone to act in a way they would not otherwise act. The person threatened is the victim of the criminal coercion. Think in terms of someone threatening to harm your children if you do fail to do something demanded. You take this action only to protect your children from the harm threatened. It is not just the threat that is necessary for criminal coercion, but that you complied with the demands to prevent the threat from being carried out.
A recent Superior Court case, J.L. v. A.C., defined coercion and its application pursuant to the new addition to the Prevention Against Domestic Violence Act (the “Act”). The Court interpreted the new addition to the act as including acts of intentional intimidation, or intent to intimidate, by threatening to harm a child or other loved one.
The facts of this case are as follows:
- C. assaulted J.L. by hitting her in the face while she was in her car, and he also damaged the windshield. She went to the police, obtained a temporary restraining order based upon the assault. Early the next morning, A.C. called J.L. demanding she pick him up and drive him somewhere. She refused, telling him about the restraining order as, apparently, he had not been served. Upon her refusal, A.C. threatened that he would hurt plaintiff’s five year old daughter if she did not pick him up as he demanded.
- Pursuant to J.L.’s testimony, she went to the location designated by A.C., to protect her daughter from A.C.’s threat which she clearly believed. When she arrived, A.C. assaulted her again, causing visible physical injuries to her face and body. A.C. was arrested shortly thereafter. At trial, A.C. neither admitted nor denied the events assaults or threats, rather, he testified that he could not recall any of it.
- L. was granted her domestic violence restraining order against A.C., which included the child, at J.L.’s request. Surely the court had more than enough to grant this restraining order based upon the two assaults in this instance, but also made use of the new criminal coercion provision as a basis for the order as well.
- The criminal coercion: what happened between the two assaults, which allowed A.C. to commit the second assault, specifically the threat that caused J.L. to go to A.C., putting herself at risk to protect her daughter.
This inclusion of criminal coercion closes part of the gap to protect minors and loved ones of victims. The court specifically addressed the emotional abuse by way of impact of these threats of harm to loved ones.
Until this statutory inclusion of criminal conversion, the Act limited protection in defining a victim of domestic violence as over the age of 18 years, unless in a dating relationship with, or having a child with, the alleged perpetrator of the domestic violence. N.J.S.A. 2C:25-19(d). Under this definition, threat of harm to a minor not within that definition has been consistently held as not covered within the Act.
As time passes and more of these cases are brought before the court, we will see how the courts interpret and apply this 15th form of domestic violence articulated in the Act.
If you need to discuss criminal coercion in a domestic violence matter, call the Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen for a free consultation at 201-845-7400.