Before Judges Stern, Graves and Landau. On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Monmouth County, Fv-13-2176-03-b.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Graves, J.A.D.
Submitted November 16, 2004
This is a domestic violence case. Defendant, Glenwood Peterson, appeals from a final restraining order entered against him and in favor of his wife, Diane Peterson. Defendant contends that he did not receive a fair trial and the evidence was insufficient to warrant the issuance of a final restraining order. Based on our careful review of the entire record, we reverse and remand for a new trial.
The domestic violence complaint, signed by plaintiff on June 4, 2003, alleged acts of harassment on June 1, 2003, that endangered plaintiff's life, health, or well-being. The complaint specified that defendant committed the following acts:
Defendant started screaming at plaintiff getting in her face and intimidating her/called her"bitch, whore," etc. Defendant made plaintiff get in car and go to dinner with their daughter. Plaintiff was sick with stomach pains/diarrhea and defendant refused to take plaintiff for 1/2 hour. On a daily basis, defendant gets into plaintiff's face, towering over her screaming and using profanities, causing plaintiff to become very scared and nervous. Defendant is 6' 7" and over 300 pounds. Plaintiff fled with child in fear of her safety. The domestic violence complaint also alleged a history of domestic violence consisting of the following:
Defendant has threatened to kill plaintiff numerous times, screams in her face and curses her weekly. Prior to 1998, defendant was very physically abusive to plaintiff. Couple of months ago, defendant threw plaintiff off the bed. Has threatened plaintiff by stating that he could do what O.J. did to his wife. Defendant sat on plaintiff's back which required medical attention.
On June 13, 2003, the parties appeared for a final hearing without attorneys. A neighbor, Ms. DeCesare, was present to testify on behalf of plaintiff, and defendant had two witnesses: his mother, Bonnie Peterson, who resided with the parties, and a friend, Benjamin Powell. Prior to the hearing, plaintiff, defendant, and the three potential witnesses were all sworn. The hearing was conducted informally with the trial court asking the questions. Neither party was afforded an opportunity to conduct cross-examination, and Mr. Peterson's witnesses did not testify. When the judge asked plaintiff what happened on June 1, 2003, she testified as follows:
[H]e came into the kitchen and he's asking me, well, he's demanding some knives that he had bought. And they're kitchen knives. It's just that they're sharp....
And I said to him, when he started demanding the knives and harassing me about the knives, -- because when my husband harasses me, my husband comes in front of my face and towers over me, stands over me. And he's yelling and screaming, and he calls me all kinds of nasty names like four-letter whore, crazy bitch, all kinds of sick stuff he says to me, and he's towering over me.
And when I tried to just turn away to avoid any kind of confrontation or discord -- attitude or action..., he follows me. If I turn to the left, he steps in front of me. If I turn to the right, he steps in front of me. So I am actually forced to stand still.....
So five, six times I said the same thing; what do you want the knives for? And eventually he kept on demanding and eventually he says to me, well just in case if you're not here I know where to find them.
Okay. I walked out after that, you know, I just left them in the kitchen because I'm not playing around with any knives........... I came back downstairs and I went to the kitchen and he says to me he's demanding let's go out for dinner, for lunch........... And I said to him, I don't feel well, because I really wasn't feeling well. I felt sick to the stomach. I was nervous. I was scared. You know.
[THE COURT:] What were you nervous and scared about?
[PLAINTIFF:] Because we have an episode of violence. We've had, you now, lots of, he's always harassing me. Even the night before, which was May 31st, he's harassing me about some pictures he thinks that I take........ I had an incident in, domestic violence incident, in'98. I got hurt. I ended up having to go in the ambulance to the emergency room........
[THE COURT:] Did he threaten you with the knife? Did he use the knife on you? Did he threaten you with the knife? Did he take the knife out and threaten you or menace you?
[PLAINTIFF:] He did it before. I'm not bothering with knives.
[THE COURT:] Did he do it on June 1st? Yes or no?
[PLAINTIFF:] No. He didn't threaten me with the knife.
[THE COURT:] So what's the problem here? What's the act of domestic ...