3rd Party Harassment Requires Two Purposes – State v. Castagna

A few moments ago, the Appellate Division released its decision in State v. Castagna. In this matter, the defendant, a police chief, was charged with violating a domestic violence restraining order by passing on harassing communications to his wife through the actions of a third party. Harassment constitutes a petty disorderly persons offense under N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4(a).

In an effort to resolve their matrimonial difficulties and the on-going restraining order, the defendant approached a relative of his wife and made a number of conciliatory statements to him related to his marriage problems. He also made vague threats during the conversation which the relative did not take seriously. The defendant ask the relative to intervene and pass along his statements about resolving their marriage difficulties.

The relative did not initially pass these communications on to the defendant’s wife, as he did not wish to become involved in their problems. However, ultimately, in response to a telephone call from defendant’s wife, at her prompting, the relative revealed the content of the conversation to her.

At the trial level in family court, the judge found that the communications made by defendant were harassing in nature and were intended by him to be so. However, the Appellate Division ruled that in a harassment case when a third party communication is involved, the purposeful aspect of the case must be shown by proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intended that a harassing communication that he made be communicated to the victim. Thus, the purposeful conduct in these types of cases must encompass two objects: a purpose to harass the victim and a purpose to have the third party communicate a harassing statement.

In this case, the Appellate Division found that the defendant did not have such a purpose and reversed his conviction.

Download a copy of State v. Castagna is attached to this muni-mail.

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