Thursday, 16 June 2011 14:09 Jerry DeMarco
Lawmakers in Trenton are considering a measure that would give stalking victims the chance to sue in civil court for monetary damages, even if the accused stalker hasn’t been criminally convicted -- or even charged.
Ten other states have already put such civil measures in place, giving stalking victims greater recourse, notes Assemblyman Peter Barnes of Middlesex County, who is sponsoring the New Jersey bill.
In a criminal prosecution, convictions require a judge or jury find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In a civil court, however, all that’s needed is a preponderance of evidence.
“In a prosecution for stalking, elements of the offense can be difficult to establish; for example, evidentiary issues involving physical or corroborating evidence of a stalking may not be readily available,” the measure introduced this week says. “It is the sponsor’s view that this lower standard of proof for civil actions will enable victims of stalking to receive compensation for the damage caused by the unlawful behavior.”
A-4086 would make a civil wrong of conduct prohibited under the state’s criminal stalking statute, "whether or not the individual has been charged or convicted for the alleged violation, for damages incurred by the victim as a result of that conduct, in addition to the costs for bringing the action."
If compensatory damages are awarded, victims could seek punitive damages, as well, the proposed bill says, defining a “victim” as anyone “placed in reasonable fear for his own personal safety or for the safety of a minor child of whom the person is a parent or legal guardian.”
The other states that have created similar laws: California, Kentucky, Michigan, Nebraska, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia and Wyoming.
The proposed civil measure mimics New Jersey’s criminal statutes, which some critics call vague.
Stalking in New Jersey doesn’t require “Fatal Attraction”-like behavior. The stalker doesn’t even have to make direct contact with a victim to be charged. It could involve “repeatedly maintaining visual or physical proximity to a person (directly or indirectly) or through third parties by any action, including electronic,” as well as “repeated acts of harassment.”