New Jersey Child Custody Disputes When Domestic Violence Is an Issue.  In Order Be Successful The Retaining Of A New Jersey Private Investigator Is Essential (Part Two, of Two Parts)

As discussed In Part One, my presentation informed that documented and even undocumented cases of domestic violence can have great influence on how a New Jersey Family Court awards custody in New Jersey, this is why it is so important you retain a New Jersey Private Investigator experienced in the Domestic Violence Laws in New Jersey.  As the former Chief of The Jersey City Police Department and current owner of Cowan Investigations where I provide services as a licensed New Jersey Private Investigator I explained how to know if you are a victim under the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (NJPDVA).  I thought this important because victims of Domestic Violence in New Jersey who suffer abuse at the hands of family members or others are often confused as to whether or not their victimization is covered under the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (NJPDVA). As discussed in Part One, being covered under the umbrella protections afforded by New Jersey Domestic Violence Laws provides an assortment of protections you would otherwise not be entitled to if your victimization did not fall under the protections of New Jersey Domestic Violence Laws.

As a thirty-five year veteran and longtime New Jersey Police Supervisor in New Jersey’s Second Largest Municipal Police Department I have seen the carnage and hurt caused by family violence.  As the current owner of the New Jersey Licensed Private Investigations Firm “Cowan Investigations” in I which I operate as the company’s primary New Jersey Licensed Private Investigator in where I specialize in investigating New Jersey Child Custody Matters, I have observed the negatives of victims not having properly reported that they have been victims of domestic violence in their relationship.  As discussed in Part One, being the victim of domestic violence in a relationship can have strong favorable implications in Child Custody Issues brought before New Jersey Family Courts.

Whenever you are recipient of violence your first inclination should be to get away if you can to a place where you are able to be safe and call the police, or if you can’t escape, you must defend yourself.  When the police respond to a call of domestic violence there are certain responsibilities they have upon arriving; first and foremost the responding police officers primary responsibility is to protect the victim from further violence and to arrest the perpetrator of that violence.  During my time as a New Jersey Police Supervisor and then as a licensed New Jersey Private Investigator I have encountered some police officers who shirked this responsibility, maybe because they had not been trained properly, or, possibly because they just don’t care or lazy.  I am not saying it is the rule, but what I am saying there is certainly the mishandling of domestic violence cases is more prevalent then is acceptable.

It is important for Victims of Domestic Violence in New Jersey to know the responsibility police have in order to provide for their protection, specifically under what situations that it is mandatory for the officers to arrest the offender. When police in New Jersey respond to a report of domestic violence the officers and find there is probable cause to believe an act of domestic violence occurred the police officers are required to make an arrest and take into custody the offender while at the same time the NEW JERSEY POLICE OFFICER MUST SIGN THE CRIMINAL COMPLAINT, the following conditions (remember the legislative intent discussed earlier, i.e., the police officer in New Jersey has a primary function at the scene of a Domestic Violence incident and it is to “protect the victim” and ”enforce the laws that have been allegedly violated”):

Mandatory Arrest Situations

1.   When the New Jersey Officer observes that the victim exhibits a sign of an injury and the police officer has probable cause to believe was caused by an act of Domestic Violence.

A.  The word, “exhibits,” is to be liberally interpreted to mean any sign that a victim has suffered bodily injury, which shall include a complaint of physical pain or any impairment of the victims physical condition. Probable cause to arrest also may be established when the police officer observes manifestations of an internal injury suffered by the victim, i.e., such as a bruise.

B.  Where the victim exhibits no visible sign of injury, but states that an injury has occurred, the officer should consider other relevant factors in determining whether there is probable cause to make an arrest. When the New Jersey Police Officer is assessing as to which party in a domestic violence incident is the victim where both individuals exhibit signs of injury, the officer should consider: 1- The comparative extent of injuries suffered by either party, 2- The history of domestic violence between the two parties and/or 3- Other relevant factors

C. When a New Jersey Police Officer finds probable cause to believe that the terms of a no contact order (restraining order) have been violated. If the victim does not have a copy of the restraining order, the New Jersey Officer has the responsibility of verifying the restraining order with the appropriate law enforcement agency.

D. When a warrant is in effect

E. A New Jersey Police Officer must arrest a party in the event that he has probable cause to believe that a weapon has been involved in the commission of an act of domestic violence.

Seizure of Weapons From the Scene of Domestic Violence Incidents

One of the more important roles New Jersey Police Officers serve in their response to Domestic Violence is their ability to seize firearms from the home under certain circumstances (you do not have to be a deep thinker to see the utility of the seizure of weapons under domestic violence responses).

A. The Seizure of a Weapon for Safekeeping, a New Jersey Police Officer who has probable cause to believe that an act of domestic violence has been committed may:

  1.  Question all persons present at the scene in order to determine whether there are weapons, as defined in N.J.S.A. 2C: 39-1R (this is a large swath of weapons being referenced from billy-clubs and knives to firearms) on the premises
  2.  If a New Jersey Police Officer sees or learns that a weapon is present within the premises jointly possessed by both the domestic violence assailant and the domestic violence victim and the officer REASONABLY BELIEVES that the continued presence of the weapon would expose the domestic violence victim to a risk of serious bodily injury, the police officer should attempt to gain possession of that weapon.
  3.  If the weapon is in plain view the New Jersey Police Officer should seize the weapon.
  4.  If the weapon is not in plain view but the weapon is believed to be located in the premises that are jointly possessed by both the victim and the domestic violence assailant, the New Jersey Police Officer should obtain consent, preferably in writing, from the domestic violence victim to search for and seize the weapon.
  5. If the weapon is not possessed within the premises jointly possessed by the domestic violence and the assailant but is instead located on other premises, the New Jersey Police Officer should attempt to obtain possession of the weapon from that person who possesses the weapon, that being either the domestic violence assailant or a third party, by obtaining a voluntary surrender of that weapon.
  6.  If the domestic violence assailant or the third party refuses to surrender the weapon or allow the officer to enter the premises to search for the named weapon, the New Jersey Police Officer should obtain a domestic violence search warrant from a New Jersey Court.

There is so much more to the New Jersey Prevention Of Domestic Violence Act that would be nice to know and understand as a victim, but probably not necessary for you to know. However it is important for you to understand two more procedures that police are required to follow:

Question #1– Where exactly can a domestic violence victim in New Jersey sign a complaint and obtain a restraining order?

1. Jurisdiction where the act of domestic violence occurred, or
2. Jurisdiction where the defendant resides, or, 3. Jurisdiction where the victim resides or where the victim is sheltered.

Question #2– When you are the victim of Domestic Violence in New Jersey and the police have responded to investigate the violence, are the Investigating New Jersey Police Officers required to offer you assistance in obtaining a temporary restraining order when the New Jersey Courts are closed and/or provide you with direction on how to obtain a restraining order when New Jersey Courts are open?

Yes, the responding New Jersey Police Officer must provide you with guidance and assistance in obtaining a restraining order when the New Jersey Courts are open. On weekends, holidays and nights when the courts are closed New Jersey Police Officers are required to assist a victim of domestic violence in obtaining a temporary restraining order. Pursuant to this requirement the New Jersey Police at the scene of a violence incident are required the fill out what is known as a VINE Form (victim Information Notification Everyday), on this form there will be a signature line that the police officer will ask the domestic violence victim to sign which will indicate if/if not the victim is requesting or declining assistance in obtaining temporary restraining order.

WARNING, in my twenty-seven years experience as a Jersey City New Jersey Police Supervisor and than as a Licensed New Jersey Private Investigator it is my experience that if improprieties are going to occur in police officers fulfilling their sworn duty to protect New Jersey Domestic Violence Victims, it will occur during the completion of this form by police. As stated before, most New Jersey Police Officers are honest and caring people who perform their duties to the fullest and to the letter of the law. However, as a police supervisor I often have observed too many police officers tell domestic violence victims that they will not be able to obtain a restraining order based on the fact pattern of their complaint while attempting to manipulate the vulnerable domestic violence victims into signing the form indicating they were declining a restraining order. To a lessor extent the purpose for this conduct was improper training, but to a larger extent it was simply the fact that the officers were lazy and did not want to complete the process in obtaining a restraining order, a process, which at times can be arduous, and very time consuming. In all instances that I became aware of the improper manipulation of New Jersey Domestic Violence Victims I would put a stop to it and assertively explain to the offending police officers that it is not their call whether or not a restraining order will issue but a decision for a New Jersey Court to decide.

As a Licensed New Jersey Private Investigator I recently had a case requiring me to review the facts surrounding a domestic violence incident. Simply stated, my investigation led me to believe the police department that had investigated the victim’s domestic violence complaint had more than likely manipulated the complaining victim into signing the VINE Form (Victim Information Every Day) indicating the victim wished to decline a restraining order. Even more disturbing, my investigation revealed the victim attempted to have this police department review evidence related to her domestic violence complaint and the department declined, assumedly because of the amount of time it would have taken to do so. I reviewed the evidence that the victim had attempted to present to police, it was overwhelming; if police had reviewed the evidence in a timely manner it would have certainly resulted in a restraining order having been issued and multiple weapons would have been seized as a result, because of the reported failure of the police to properly investigate there could be dangerous consequences ahead.

If you feel you were declined proper assistance in obtaining a domestic violence restraining order I would suggest you take steps to make yourself and other family members immediately safe until such time as you can contact the County Prosecutors Office in your respective County and ask to be connected with the “Office of Victim Witness Advocacy”.

In closing, it is extremely important that you know your rights under the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA) and demand the protections your are entitled to. Equally important is the records you keep in regard to your victimization because if you end up in court in New Jersey on a marital related issue such as child custody and/or parenting plans New Jersey Family Courts place a lot of weight in their decisions if there is a history of domestic violence and even more so if there is an active restraining order.

For more info, please visit our Child Custody page.

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Bob Cowan is the owner of Cowan Investigations a full service New Jersey Private Investigations Firm

If you wish to speak with me regarding this article, or if you need a consultation regarding it’s contents please do not hesitate to call me at 732-837-8444, seven days a week 8:00am to 8:00pm.

About the author: Bob Cowan is the owner of Cowan Investigations a full service New Jersey Private Investigations Firm, Bob is the former Chief of the Jersey City Police Department and has 35 years experience as a police officer.