NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted May 29, 2013
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Mercer County, Docket No. FV-11-1414-12.
Evan F. Nappen, P.C., attorneys for appellant (Mr. Nappen on the brief).
Respondent has not filed a brief.
Before Judges Hayden and Hoffman.
Defendant, G.R., appeals from a final restraining order (FRO) under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (the Act), N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 to -35, entered after a trial on June 11, 2012 on behalf of plaintiff, A.R. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.
The record reveals that on May 31, 2012, plaintiff obtained a domestic violence temporary restraining order (TRO) against defendant based upon a predicate act of harassment. At the June 11, 2012 FRO trial, plaintiff, who lived with defendant, testified that when she had arrived home, defendant was angry at her. He told plaintiff that she was evil and she should "wait and see what God has in store" for her. Defendant accused her of having caused him pain, then reached under his bed, took out a big hunting knife and said, "You want to know what pain is — I'll show you what pain is."
He then started walking toward her with the knife pressed in his palm. She told him he was scaring her but he kept coming toward her while repeating his statements about pain. She fled the home, went to the police station and obtained a TRO. Plaintiff reported that defendant had a violent temper and in the past had threatened to slit people's throats and make people "disappear." The judge did not inform defendant, who was representing himself, that he could cross-examine plaintiff.
Defendant testified that much of what plaintiff said was correct but was taken out of context. He explained that he was distressed because they had been planning to adopt a dog together from a shelter. He had just learned, however, that plaintiff had given the shelter permission to give the dog to another person. According to defendant, he was not angry but very hurt. He acknowledged that he had made a mistake in how he conveyed his feelings to plaintiff.
The trial judge then ruled as follows:
This is a regrettable incident. Considered in the context of previous statements that may have been made in the past with respect to the use of a weapon, it's not unreasonable to reach the conclusion that she did with respect to whether or not this was a threat. Even though defendant's testimony is that that is not what he intended. As I say, again, considered in a context of previous statements with respect to the use of a weapon in an aggressive way, it can, and obviously was taken that way. So, I will issue a restraining order[.]
We begin with some basic principles concerning domestic violence cases. In adopting the Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 to -35, the Legislature declared "that domestic violence is a serious crime against society" because "there are thousands of persons . . . who are regularly beaten, tortured and in some cases even killed by their spouses or cohabitants." N.J.S.A. 2C:25-18. The Legislature intended the Act "to assure the victims of domestic violence the maximum protection from abuse the law can provide." Peranio v. Peranio, 280 N.J.Super. 47, 53 (App. Div. 1995) (quoting N.J.S.A. 2C:25-18). The term "[v]ictim of domestic violence" refers to ...