The servicing of a restraining order on a perpetrator of domestic violence results in the loss of various rights and freedoms, including the right to bear arms. Those who are served with a restraining order, but not convicted of a crime, must forfeit any firearms that are in their possession. A conviction for domestic violence results in the loss of one's right to purchase firearms, along with the forfeiture of any firearms. What was not always clear was the restriction of firearms for those who have been accused of domestic violence. These are individuals who have been cited for possible domestic violence multiple times, but the charges were never substantiated through a civil or criminal proceeding. There are numerous reasons for why a domestic violence claim cannot be substantiated. In many cases the victim is too afraid to go through with the hearing, or is talked out of filing charges by the abuser. Or, there's simply not enough evidence for the police or judge to determine that an incident of domestic violence has occurred.
Regardless of the reasons, the New Jersey courts take accusations of domestic violence very seriously. It does not mean that a mere accusation will result in the alleged abuser losing the right to buy or keep firearms, but judges do have the discretion to decide such matters based on the individual circumstances. In Re Z.L. is a recent example of judiciary discretion in the prohibition of firearms for a defendant who had five incidents with the police over an 8 year period for incidents of domestic violence against his wife. He denied that he harmed his wife, except during one incident in which he “accidentally struck” his wife. Although he was not convicted, nor had a restraining order ever been issued for these incidents, the judge relied on the catchall provision in which a defendant may be denied firearm purchasing rights if it was not in the public interest. The judge in this case decided that based on the circumstances, it was in the public interest to deny a firearms purchaser card to such an individual.
The defendant appealed, but the Appellate Division ruled that the trial court had the discretion to make such a decision based on the statutes. Furthermore, they could see no wrong in the judge erring on the side of safety based on the number and nature of the incidents. Even if the wife did not follow through with the applications for domestic violence, they could see no fault in the judge making a decision in the interest of public health and safety. Their ruling was, however, focused on judiciary discretion, which may certainly be questioned based on the specific circumstances of each case. That's why it's important to find out about your rights and legal options, even if you are only accused of domestic violence. For more information on domestic violence proceedings in New Jersey, please speak with the attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.