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New Jersey’s highest court has ruled that a man who secretly installed a video camera in his soon-to-be ex-wife’s bedroom might be guilty of stalking and harassment, but that the 24 hours he was afforded to respond to the Domestic Violence Act charges violated his right to due process. Reversing two lower court rulings and remanding the case, New Jersey’s Supreme Court cited the “novelty of the factual circumstances” and said that the wife would have suffered little or no prejudice if the trial court had given her husband more time because a temporary restraining order was already in place. H.E.S. v. J.C.S., No. A-132-01. Identified only by their initials, J.C.S. and H.E.S. were married for 18 years. Though the wife, H.E.S., filed for divorce in June 2000, the two still occupied separate bedrooms in the same home. Shortly after J.C.S. filed a domestic-violence complaint against his wife, H.E.S. filed her own domestic-violence complaint form, checking the box next to the term “Terroristic Threats” but without elaboration and without indicating if her husband had engaged in stalking or harassment. Served on Aug. 23, the husband was told to appear in court the next day. At the hearing, H.E.S. testified that her husband had made threatening statements and recounted four instances during the past nine years where he had allegedly behaved abusively. She then told how she found a video and audio microchip in her bedroom and traced the wires to a television monitor and VCR in her husband’s room. Overruling his insufficient-notice objection, the trial court found J.C.S. guilty of stalking and harassment and entered a final restraining order against him. Affirming, an intermediate appellate court agreed that J.C.S. had been afforded due process. It also ruled that the evidence supported the claim of stalking, but not harassment. But the New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously reversed, holding that basic due process requirements were not met because J.C.S. was called to defend against allegations that were not pleaded in the complaint. It added that while the state’s Domestic Violence Act requires a hearing within 10 days of filing, the trial court should have granted a continuance. It held, however, that the use of the surveillance equipment, when considered in the totality of the circumstances, met the legal definitions of stalking and harassment. H.E.S.’ attorney, Michele C. Verno of Linwood, N.J., said that the decision advanced the stalking and harassment laws in keeping up with technology. “Courts are recognizing that stalking can take many different forms in today’s society,” she said. “Victims are being afforded more protection.” Clement F. Lisitski of Ocean City, N.J., attorney for J.C.S., said he was pleased that the court recognized the primacy of due process over convenience. “All too often, people charged with domestic violence are forced to go to court against broad allegations, sometimes going back for years, without knowing what all the allegations are, and without the chance to go back and collect evidence and get witnesses,” Lisitski said. He added that his client would be cleared. Mike McCurley, a Dallas family lawyer and a past president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, cautioned about reading too much into the ruling on stalking and harassment. “If they’re going to catch up with technology, this opinion doesn’t get them there.”

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