The opinion of the court was delivered by
Plaintiff, S.D., appeals from the denial of a final restraining order following a finding of domestic violence. On appeal, she raises the following issues:
We reverse and remand for entry of a final restraining order.
The record reflects that plaintiff, S.D., and defendant, M.J.R., are citizens of Morocco and adherents to the Muslim faith. They were wed in Morocco in an arranged marriage on July 31, 2008, when plaintiff was seventeen years old.
When asked to describe specifically where defendant was pinching, plaintiff responded that the pinching took place on her breasts, under her arms, and around her thighs; that the pinches left bruises; and that some of the bruises remained at the time that a detective from the Hudson County Prosecutor's office took pictures of her body on November 22, 2008. The punishment continued for approximately one hour, during which time plaintiff was crying. Plaintiff testified that, while administering the punishment, defendant said "I am doing all that to correct you. You have to learn to do something." Nonetheless, plaintiff stated that she "kept all this inside of [her] and we started to live again together, normal life."
An additional incident took place on November 16, 2008. At approximately 3:00 p.m., defendant announced that he planned to have guests who were to arrive at approximately 9:00 or 10:00 that night, and he asked plaintiff to prepare a supper for them. Plaintiff responded that she did not know how to cook. Defendant then left the apartment, returning at 6:00 with his mother and stating that she would do everything. The mother-in-law refused plaintiff's offers of help, so plaintiff went to her room. At some time thereafter, plaintiff, in anger and frustration, pushed papers that defendant had placed on a desk in the bedroom to the floor.
Plaintiff stated that the guests left at approximately midnight, and that defendant came into the bedroom between twelve and one.
Plaintiff stated that her vaginal area was very, very red and that it was hurting. Although she attempted to leave, defendant had locked the door. As a consequence, she attempted to lie on the other side of the bed. Plaintiff testified:
The judge then asked: "You told him that you did not wish to have ... intercourse, is that correct?" Plaintiff responded: "Of course because I was — I had so much pain down there." According to plaintiff, the entire episode took approximately two to three hours.
On the following morning, plaintiff asked defendant why he had done what he did. As she reported it, defendant responded
An additional incident occurred on November 22, 2008. That morning, following an argument with her mother-in-law, plaintiff locked herself in her bedroom. Defendant, having been refused entry, removed the latch from the door, entered the bedroom, and engaged in nonconsensual sex with plaintiff. Although plaintiff's mother-in-law and sister-in-law were in the apartment, and although plaintiff was crying throughout the episode, neither came to her assistance.
Defendant and his relatives then left the apartment, and plaintiff started to break everything in the bedroom, including one of its two windows. After defendant returned with his mother at approximately 4:00 p.m., plaintiff attempted to leave the apartment. However, defendant pulled her back into the bedroom and assaulted her by repeatedly slapping her face, causing her lip to swell and bleeding to occur. He then left the room, and plaintiff escaped without shoes or proper clothing through the unbroken window.
Once outside, plaintiff encountered a Pakistani woman from whom she requested shoes. Seeing plaintiff's condition, the woman called the police, who arrived shortly thereafter, along with an ambulance. Plaintiff was taken to Christ Hospital in Jersey City, where her injuries were treated, photographs were taken, and an attempt was made by detectives from the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office to interview her. However, she was too distraught to speak with them at length. Four of the photographs of plaintiff's body, introduced as exhibits at trial, appear in the appendix to defendant's brief. They depict bruising to both of plaintiff's breasts and to both of her thighs, as well as her swollen, bruised and abraded lips. Testimony of Detective Johanna Rak, the person who took the photographs, established that the remaining photographs disclosed injuries to plaintiff's left eye and right cheek. She testified that bruising appeared on plaintiff's breasts, thighs, and forearm. Additional police testimony established that there were stains on the pillow and sheets of plaintiff's and defendant's bed that appeared to be blood.
Following the November 22 incident, plaintiff took up residence with a Moroccan nurse from Christ Hospital, and she remained with her until January 15, 2009. On December 22, she was determined to be pregnant. Following a meeting between plaintiff, defendant, the nurse, and the Imam of the mosque at which plaintiff and defendant worshiped, the couple was persuaded to reconcile on the condition that defendant stop mistreating and cursing at plaintiff, that they move back to Morocco at the conclusion of defendant's employment, and that defendant obtain an apartment where the couple could live away from his mother. Plaintiff and defendant moved together into an apartment in Jersey City on January 15, 2009. Defendant's mother lived elsewhere.
However, on the night of the reconciliation, defendant again engaged in nonconsensual sex three times, and on succeeding days plaintiff stated that he engaged in further repeated instances of nonconsensual sex. According to plaintiff, during this period, she was deprived of food, she lacked a refrigerator and a phone, and she was left by her husband for many hours, alone. She responded to her plight by breaking dishes, and on January 18, defendant called plaintiff's parents in Morocco, informed them that plaintiff was "in very bad condition," and asked them to send $600 for a ticket back to Morocco. On January 22, 2009, defendant took plaintiff to a restaurant for breakfast. Upon their return to the apartment, defendant forced plaintiff to have sex with him while she cried. Plaintiff testified that defendant always told her
After having sex, defendant took plaintiff to a travel agency to buy a ticket for her return to Morocco. However the ticket was not purchased, and the couple returned to the apartment. Once there, defendant threatened divorce, but nonetheless again engaged in nonconsensual sex while plaintiff cried. Later that day, defendant and his mother took plaintiff to the home of the Imam and, in the presence of the Imam, his wife, and defendant's mother, defendant verbally divorced plaintiff.
Plaintiff remained at the Imam's house until January 25, 2009, at which time she filed a complaint in municipal court against defendant and obtained a temporary restraining order. A complaint was also filed in Superior Court on January 29, 2009, and an additional temporary restraining order was issued. The two actions were merged for trial in the Superior Court.
Plaintiff testified at the trial that she wanted a final restraining order because "I don't want anybody to interfere or push me back to him. So if I have the restraining order, that will protect me from him." Plaintiff testified additionally that she remained in fear of defendant. At the time of the domestic violence trial, a parallel criminal action was also pending.
The mother testified additionally regarding the events of January 22, 2009. She stated that, on that day, she pulled up in front of the couple's apartment and opened the car door to permit defendant to sit in the front and plaintiff to sit in the back seat. When defendant announced that he was going to the Imam to procure a divorce, plaintiff commenced to grab defendant's hair and beard and to "beat" him. According to the mother, defendant then took the car, while she and plaintiff walked to the Imam's house. During their walk, plaintiff allegedly stated that she was going to "destroy" defendant for divorcing her, and that she did not care if she were destroyed in the process, as well. When they arrived at the Imam's house, the mother heard plaintiff say that she loved defendant, that she did not wish a divorce, and that she would do anything for him. She did not hear plaintiff complain about nonconsensual sex. The mother stated that, after the divorce, on January 24, she received a phone call from plaintiff, during which plaintiff accused the family of having no decency and stated that the mother was an old, ugly woman.
The nurse who sheltered plaintiff also testified for the defense. She stated that plaintiff's statement that she wanted her baby to be with his father prompted the nurse's attempt to arrange a reconciliation between plaintiff and defendant. However, she admitted that plaintiff had complained of domestic abuse during the course of the reconciliation meeting, and that defendant had been instructed to cease abusing her. The nurse testified further that, during plaintiff's three-day stay with the Imam, plaintiff called her in seeming distress. When the nurse visited plaintiff the next day, plaintiff complained about the divorce but not any mistreatment. Although plaintiff was supposed to make arrangements to go to Morocco, she determined to stay in the United States, saying "after what [defendant] did, I cannot leave his life like that."
Testimony was additionally offered for the defense by the Imam regarding matters in issue. The Imam testified that defendant sought to divorce plaintiff because she threatened to go to the police, but that she never mentioned to him being forced to engage in nonconsensual sex. According to the Imam, although defendant sought a divorce, plaintiff opposed it. The Imam testified additionally that arrangements were made for plaintiff's return to Morocco, but when he and his wife sought to take her to the airport, she refused.
At the conclusion of this testimony, in response to the judge's questions, the Imam testified regarding Islamic law as it relates to sexual behavior. The Imam confirmed that a wife must comply with her husband's sexual demands, because the husband is prohibited from obtaining sexual
On June 30, 2009, the judge rendered an oral opinion in the matter. He commenced his opinion by stating that plaintiff alleged that defendant engaged in conduct that constituted assault, criminal restraint, sexual assault, criminal sexual contact, and harassment under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. The judge found from his review of the evidence that plaintiff had proven by a preponderance of the evidence that defendant had engaged in harassment, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4b and c,
While recognizing that defendant had engaged in sexual relations with plaintiff against her expressed wishes in November 2008 and on the night of January 15 to 16, 2009, the judge did not find sexual assault or criminal sexual conduct to have been proven. He stated:
After acknowledging that this was a case in which religious custom clashed with the law, and that under the law, plaintiff had a right to refuse defendant's advances, the judge found that defendant did not act with a criminal intent when he repeatedly insisted upon intercourse, despite plaintiff's contrary wishes.
Having found acts of domestic violence consisting of assault and harassment to have occurred, the judge turned to the issue of whether a final restraining order should be entered. He found such an order unnecessary, vacated the temporary restraints previously entered in the matter and dismissed plaintiff's domestic violence action. In doing so, the judge characterized
The judge therefore found that the parties had no reason to be together again, but immediately thereafter, he noted that their baby was expected in August and "[t]hat will require that the parties be in contact presumably." The judge then concluded:
Nonetheless, the judge cautioned defendant not to have any contact with plaintiff and to instruct his family members and friends to have no further contact with plaintiff's family. Additionally, the judge acknowledged that the two would have to be involved in litigation over the baby and child support.
As a final matter, the judge recognized the pendency of a criminal action against defendant, and indicated its existence constituted an additional basis for the judge's ruling denying a final restraining order, since he assumed that a no-contact order had been entered as a condition of bail.
Plaintiff has appealed.
We first address the judge's dismissal of plaintiff's claims of domestic violence premised on sexual assault and criminal sexual contact. The New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA), N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 to -35, was enacted in its present form in 1991. In N.J.S.A. 2C:25-18, the Legislature set forth its findings and declaration, stating in relevant part:
The PDVA defines "domestic violence" in N.J.S.A. 2C:25-19 to mean the infliction of one or more of an enumerated list of crimes upon a protected person. Among
In the present matter, the judge found harassment and assault to have occurred, but declined to find sexual assault or criminal sexual contact, determining that the complained-of conduct occurred, but that defendant lacked the requisite criminal intent.
N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2c provides that "[a]n actor is guilty of sexual assault if he commits an act of sexual penetration with another person" under several circumstances, including when "[t]he actor uses physical force or coercion, but the victim does not sustain severe personal injury." N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2c(1). To establish physical force for the purposes of N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2, the plaintiff does not have to prove force in addition to "that necessary for penetration so long as the penetration was accomplished `in the absence of what a reasonable person would believe to be affirmative and freely-given permission.'" State v. Velasquez, 391 N.J.Super. 291, 319, 918 A.2d 45 (App.Div.2007) (quoting State in the Interest of M.T.S., 129 N.J. 422, 444, 609 A.2d 1266 (1992)). Testimony by plaintiff at trial adequately established the absence of freely given permission.
N.J.S.A. 2C:14-3b provides that "[a]n actor is guilty of criminal sexual contact if he commits an act of sexual contact with the victim under any of the circumstances set forth in section 2C:14-2c." "Sexual contact" is defined as "an intentional touching by the ... actor, either directly or through clothing, of the victim's ... intimate parts for the purpose of degrading or humiliating the victim or sexually arousing or sexually gratifying the actor." N.J.S.A. 2C:14-1. Neither the sexual assault statute nor the criminal sexual contact statute specifies the mental state that must be demonstrated in order to establish the defendant's criminal intent.
The trial judge found as a fact that defendant committed conduct that constituted a sexual assault and criminal sexual contact, but that defendant did not have the requisite criminal intent in doing so. His conclusion in this respect cannot be sustained. N.J.S.A. 2C:2-2c(3) establishes the principle that criminal statutes that do not designate a specific culpability requirement should be construed as requiring knowing conduct.
Defendant's conduct in engaging in nonconsensual sexual intercourse was unquestionably knowing, regardless of his view that his religion permitted him to act as he did.
As the judge recognized, the case thus presents a conflict between the criminal law and religious precepts. In resolving this conflict, the judge determined to except defendant from the operation of the State's statutes as the result of his religious beliefs. In doing so, the judge was mistaken.
Early law in this area arose out of prosecutions of Mormons who practiced polygamy. In Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145, 25 L.Ed. 244 (1878), the Supreme Court considered an appeal from a Mormon's conviction under a Congressionally passed bigamy statute applicable to the Utah territory. At trial, the defendant proved that, at the time of his second marriage, it was an accepted doctrine of the Church "that it was the duty of male members of said Church, circumstances permitting, to practice polygamy" and "[t]hat he had received permission from the recognized authorities in said Church to enter into polygamous marriage." Id. at 161, 25 L.Ed. at 248. As a consequence, defendant sought a charge to the jury that "if he was married ... in pursuance of and in conformity with what he believed at the time to be a religious duty, that the verdict must be `not guilty.'" Id. at 162, 25 L.Ed. at 249. The judge refused to give the charge, ibid., and defendant was convicted of the crime.
In affirming the conviction, the Court framed the issue in the following fashion: "Upon this charge and refusal to charge the question is raised, whether religious belief can be accepted as a justification of an overt act made criminal by the law of the land." Ibid. In resolving the issue, the Court noted that "Congress cannot pass a law for the government of the Territories which shall prohibit the free exercise of religion. The first amendment to the Constitution expressly forbids such legislation." Ibid. Nonetheless, the Court found that the First Amendment's guaranty of religious freedom was not intended to preclude the prohibition of polygamy and, therefore, enactment of the statute was within the legislative power of Congress "as prescribing a rule of action for all those residing in the Territories, and in places over which the United States have exclusive control." Id. at 166, 25 L.Ed. at 250. The Court further determined that those who made polygamy a part of their religion were not excepted from the statute's operation. Ibid.
The Court then observed that "criminal intent is generally an element of crime, but every man is presumed to intend the necessary and legitimate consequences of what he knowingly does." Id. at 167, 25 L.Ed. at 250. Because the defendant knew he had been married once and that his first wife was living, and he also knew that his second marriage was legally forbidden, when he married a second time he is presumed to have intended to break the law, thereby committing a crime. Ibid.
See also Cleveland v. United States, 329 U.S. 14, 67 S.Ct. 13, 91 L.Ed. 12 (1946) (affirming the conviction of defendant practitioners of polygamy under the Mann Act upon a determination that they transported their wives across state lines for immoral purposes and a rejection of defendants' claim that, because of their religious beliefs, they lacked the necessary criminal intent).
Similarly, in Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 60 S.Ct. 900, 84 L.Ed. 1213 (1940), the Court, relying on Reynolds, held in an often-quoted statement:
Over the years, the United State Supreme Court's treatment of Free Exercise Clause cases has changed. In brief, in Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398, 83 S.Ct. 1790, 10 L.Ed.2d 965 (1963), the Court reversed a denial of unemployment benefits to the plaintiff, a Seventh Day Adventist, because of her unwillingness to accept Saturday employment. In reversing, the court held that the government's action substantially burdened plaintiff's free exercise of religion, Id. at 403-04, 83 S.Ct. at 1793-94, 10 L.Ed.2d at 970-71, and that its action was not justified by a compelling government interest in the regulation of a subject within the State's constitutional power to regulate. Id. at 406-09, 83 S.Ct. at 1795-96, 10 L.Ed.2d at 972-73.
However, in Employment Div., Dep't of Human Res. of Oregon v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872, 110 S.Ct. 1595, 108 L.Ed.2d 876 (1990), the Supreme Court held that the Free Exercise Clause did not require Oregon to exempt the sacramental ingestion of peyote by members of the Native American Church from Oregon's criminal drug laws. Id. at 876-82, 110 S.Ct. at 1599-1602, 108 L.Ed.2d at 884-88. The Court determined that such valid, generally applicable, and neutral laws may be applied to religious exercise even in the absence of a compelling governmental interest. Id. at 882-89, 110 S.Ct. at 1602-06, 108 L.Ed.2d at 888-92. In doing so, the Court held that "[t]he only decisions in which we have held that the First Amendment bars application of a neutral, generally applicable law to religiously motivated action have involved not the Free Exercise Clause alone, but the Free Exercise Clause in conjunction with other constitutional protections." Id. at 881, 110 S.Ct. at 1601, 108 L.Ed.2d
The Court concluded:
Congress responded to Smith by passing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000bb to 2000bb-4, which resurrected the substantial burden test, providing that "[g]overnment shall not substantially burden a person's exercise of religion[,] even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability... [unless] it demonstrates that application of the burden ... is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest." 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000bb-1(a) and (b).
However, in City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507, 536, 117 S.Ct. 2157, 2172, 138 L.Ed.2d 624, 649 (1997), the Supreme Court held that in enacting the RFRA, Congress had exceeded its enforcement power under § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, and thus the statute was unconstitutional as applied to the states. In response to Boerne, Congress enacted the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (the RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000cc to 2000cc-5, which has the same substantive standard as the RFRA but a considerably narrowed applicability. The RLUIPA applies when a substantial burden to the exercise of religion is imposed as the result of the government's regulation of land use by religious assemblies or institutions or by regulations affecting persons residing in an institution such as a prison. See 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000cc and § 2000cc-1. In either case, the receipt of federal financial assistance by the program or institution is required. Ibid.
In this context, we note, as well, the Legislature's recognition of the serious nature of domestic violence, the responsibility of the courts to protect victims of such violence and its directive that the remedies of the PDVA be broadly applied. See N.J.S.A. 2C:25-18, quoted at length earlier in this opinion. The Legislature's findings and declaration provide an additional basis for the rejection of the judge's view of defendant's acts as excused by his religious beliefs, and for a recognition of those acts as violative of New Jersey's laws.
Following a finding that a defendant has committed a predicate act of domestic violence, the judge is required to consider whether a restraining order should be entered that provides protection to the victim.
In the present matter, the judge properly found that defendant had assaulted and harassed plaintiff in violation of the PDVA. However he declined to enter a final restraining order, determining that the domestic violence constituted merely a bad patch in a short-term marriage and did not result in serious injury to plaintiff, and that plaintiff and defendant had separated, a divorce proceeding was pending in Morocco, and the parties had no reason for further contact. Nonetheless, the judge recognized that contact between the parties would necessarily occur upon the birth of their child. The judge additionally appeared to be sufficiently concerned about the likelihood of renewed domestic violence to instruct defendant to have no contact with plaintiff. In this regard, he also relied upon the likelihood that a no contact order had been put in place as a condition of defendant's bail in the pending criminal proceedings against him arising from the acts of domestic violence that formed the basis for the civil action.
The judge's ruling raises several areas of concern that we regard as warranting reversal and a remand to permit the entry of a final restraining order. We construe the judge's characterization of the violence that took place as a bad patch in the parties' marriage and plaintiff's injuries as not severe as manifesting an unnecessarily dismissive view of defendant's acts of domestic violence. Although it is true that the November episodes spanned only three weeks, that period constituted approximately one-fourth of the parties' marriage. Moreover, we find it significant to the issue of whether a final restraining order
Additionally, we are troubled by the judge's seeming acknowledgement, at one point in the course of his decision, that restraints might be appropriate and his reliance on a no contact order that he presumed had been put in place in the pending criminal proceeding as affording adequate protection to plaintiff in the civil domestic violence matter. As a preliminary matter, we note that the judge did not verify the existence, terms or duration of the presumed order. Further, we have previously recognized that a complaint brought under the PDVA and a criminal proceeding brought for the same conduct "are separate and distinct matters." State v. Brown, 394 N.J.Super. 492, 504, 927 A.2d 569 (App.Div.2007). There, we observed that "[t]he legislative history demonstrates that the Act `anticipates and provides for simultaneous or subsequent criminal proceedings' unimpacted by the other, except for a contempt proceeding." Id. at 505, 927 A.2d 569 (quoting Cannel, New Jersey Criminal Code Annotated (Gann 2007), comment on N.J.S.A. 2C:25-29 (2007); N.J.S.A. 2C:25-29). We stated in Brown:
We find it inappropriate, when restraints are civilly required, for a Family Part judge to rely on restraints issued in a parallel criminal proceeding. This is particularly the case because the need to protect the victim-spouse may outlive the termination of the criminal action.
As a final matter, we find that the judge failed to give sufficient measured consideration to the imminence of the birth of the couple's child — an event that the judge
Viewing the evidence as a whole, we are satisfied that the judge was mistaken in determining not to issue a final restraining order in this matter in order to protect plaintiff from future abuse and in dismissing plaintiff's domestic violence complaint. We therefore reverse and remand the case for entry of such an order.
Reversed and remanded.