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State v. L.C.

August 8, 1995

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT
v.
L.C., DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hunterdon County.

Approved for Publication August 8, 1995

Before Judges Stern and Humphreys. The opinion of the court was delivered by Stern, J.A.D.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stern

The opinion of the court was delivered by STERN, J.A.D.

Defendant appeals from an "amended order of Disposition" finding her in "Contempt of Court" for violating domestic relations restraining orders on two occasions, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:29-9. She was sentenced to two concurrent six-month terms of probation, with conditions including community service and "psychiatric/mental health counseling." On this appeal, defendant contends that (1) "the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant 'knowing and purposely' intended to violate the [temporary restraining order (TRO)]" issued on January 6, 1993; (2) a conviction for "verbal expressions of her opinion" about her husband's "paramour" on April 18, 1993, "do not constitute harassment" within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4, and (3) the statute is unconstitutional if the definition of "harassment . . . includes verbal expressions of opinion." After a careful review of the record, we affirm one conviction and reverse the other.

I.

It is undisputed that on January 3, 1993, a municipal court Judge issued a TRO based upon a domestic violence complaint filed against defendant by her husband. On January 6, 1993, a complaint was filed alleging that defendant violated the TRO, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:29-9. The next day, a final restraining order (FRO) was issued by the Chancery Division, and on April 18, 1993, another complaint under N.J.S.A. 2C:29-9 was filed against defendant for violation of the FRO.

At a consolidated bench trial, defendant was found guilty of the charges embodied in both the January 6 and April 18 complaints. She was found not guilty of the charges embodied in a third complaint relating to events which occurred on December 12, 1993. As noted above, defendant was sentenced to serve two concurrent six-month probationary terms.

Defendant and her husband, H., both physicians, were married on July 25, 1983. They have two children, K., who was born in September 1986, and A., who was born in April 1991. Defendant and H. separated in August 1992, at which time H. moved into the condominium complex of J., a nurse who worked at the hospital where H. was employed.

Defendant objected to the children's exposure to the relationship H. had with J. Her objection was voiced on several occasions.

On January 3, 1993, H. signed a complaint under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991 (Domestic Violence Act), N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 et seq., alleging that defendant had been "harassing" J. and him. A municipal court Judge issued a TRO that day prohibiting defendant from having "contact" with H. and from "making harassing communications" to J. "and her children."

The pertinent facts regarding the first offense can be summarized as follows. On January 6, 1993 at about eight o'clock p.m., defendant arrived at J.'s home and asked to speak with H. J. told defendant that she could not speak to H. and "closed the door." According to H. and J., defendant rang the doorbell six to ten times, or more, over the next five to ten minutes. J. testified that her children "were very frightened."

Defendant testified that she went to J.'s home to ask H. why he had "curtailed visitation with his daughter that night to spend more time with his girlfriend," and that she left immediately after J. refused to let her speak to H. The complaint was filed by H. the same day, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:29-9, alleging a violation of the TRO.

On January 7, 1993, the FRO was issued, "prohibiting [defendant] from having contact" with H., "except on issues dealing with the children," and from having contact with his parents or J. The FRO also prohibited defendant from making "harassing communications by mail, by phone or in ...


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