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NJ Legislature May Create Civil Cause of Action for Stalking

The New Jersey Legislature is presently considering the creation of a "civil" cause of action for victims of stalking offenses.

Stalking is currently a criminal offense, defined at N.J.S.A. 2C:12-10 as "purposely or knowingly engaging in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear for his [or her] safety or the safety of a third person or suffer other emotional distress."  Stalking is a crime of the 4th degree, meaning that someone convicted of this crime is exposed to up to 18 months in State Prison.  It is a crime of the 3rd degree (3 to 5 years in State Prison), if the person so convicted committed the crime in violation of an existing court order, if the conviction represents a second or subsequent offense against the same victim, or if the person committed the crime while serving a prison sentence or while on parole or probation for an indictable offense.

The legislation creating a "civil" cause of action for victims of stalking, which has recently passed the State Assembly Judiciary Committee, would permit victims to file lawsuits for monetary damages incurred as a result of the stalking activity, plus costs of suit, attorney's fees, and punitive damages.  The burden of proof in a civil case (preponderance of the evidence), is much less than the burden of proof in a criminal case (beyond a reasonable doubt).  As such, if this legislation were to pass both houses of the Legislature and be signed into law by the Governor, it is conceivable that a stalking case may not be provable beyond a reasonable doubt in a criminal context, yet a victim of stalking might still be able to recover monetary damages in a civil action arising out of the same facts and circumstances.  Think OJ!

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