Across the nation, pranksters are dressing up like clowns to scare, provoke, or threaten unsuspecting strangers. Authorities have investigated incidents and arrested teenagers and adults in Pohatcong Township (Warren County), Monroe (Gloucester), Sparta and Stillwater (Sussex), Roselle Park (Union), Collingswood and Waterford (Camden), Fair Lawn (Bergen), Deptford and Washington (Gloucester), Parsippany (Morris), Woodstown (Salem), Cinnaminson (Burlington), Monroe and Spotswood (Middlesex), Toms River (Ocean), Bound Brook and North Plainfield (Somerset), and more.
While it’s not illegal to dress up like a clown (no matter how creepy you look), it is against the law in New Jersey to threaten or menace others, threaten violence in a public place like a mall or school, or engage in threatening cyberstalking behavior. If someone threatens you repeatedly, he or she may be guilty of stalking, which is a crime. If someone close to you is harassing or threatening you, it may be possible to get a temporary restraining order (TRO) or final restraining order (FRO).
New Jersey Stalking Laws
New Jersey law defines stalking as purposeful or knowing engagement “in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear for his safety or the safety of a third person or suffer other emotional distress.” “Course of conduct” is defined very broadly; the text of the law gives examples that include
- repeatedly maintaining a visual or physical proximity to a person;
- directly, indirectly, or through third parties, by any action, method, device, or means, following, monitoring, observing, surveilling, threatening, or communicating to or about, a person, or interfering with a person’s property;
- repeatedly committing harassment against a person; or
- repeatedly conveying, or causing to be conveyed, verbal or written threats or threats conveyed by any other means of communication or threats implied by conduct or a combination thereof directed at or toward a person.
Stalking is usually a fourth degree crime in New Jersey. It is a third degree crime if there is already a court order prohibiting the behavior, if your stalker is serving jail time or is on parole or probation, and for a second or subsequent stalking offense. New Jersey’s sentencing guidelines provide that many third and most fourth degree crimes have a presumption of non-incarceration. This means that convicted stalkers typically do not see jail time unless a judge determines that imprisonment is necessary for the protection of the public after considering the nature and circumstances of the offense as well as the offender’s history, character, and condition. If you believe that you are being stalked, by a clown or otherwise, contact an attorney to talk about your legal options.
Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) and Final Restraining Orders (FRO)
A restraining order is a civil order prohibiting someone from contacting you or being near you. A temporary restraining order (TRO) can be issued immediately upon filing an application to a judge, who will hear your sworn testimony and grant you a TRO if (s)he finds that it is necessary to protect your life, health, or well-being. This temporary order will last until a hearing can be held for entry of final restraining order, which is generally scheduled within 10 days. At this hearing, you can present testimony, evidence, and witnesses to support your request for a final restraining order, which will have no end date and can last forever (or until one of the parties files a motion to end or modify it).
Restraining orders are relatively easy to obtain in New Jersey if there is a history of abuse or violence between a stalker and a victim. But if you don’t personally know your stalker, especially if you don’t have much information about them (like their name or address), getting a restraining order is more difficult. The process of getting a TRO and/or a FRO can be complicated and stressful. If you are in a situation where someone is harassing or stalking you, contact an attorney to talk about your rights and how you can best use the New Jersey legal system to protect yourself.
Keep yourself and your family safe this Halloween and holiday season. Keep the clown costumes in the closet, and stay away from threatening strangers, whether or not they have clown masks on. If you are threatened, report the incident to local authorities. Hopefully, this peculiar trend will fade away quickly, and clowns can go back to being nothing more than a sign that the circus is in town.
The experienced attorneys at the Mark Law Firm have extensive experience in helping clients who have been stalked or harassed and entering temporary and final restraining orders. Contact our team of stalking lawyers in Basking Ridge or Newark today to talk about protecting your rights and ensuring your safety.