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NJ Appellate Division Overturns Crespo

Crespo vs. Crespo – the case that gave new hope to anyone who was ever hit with an unwarranted domestic violence restraining order - was back in the spotlight as the New Jersey Court of Appeals overturned a lower court decision that vacated a final restraining order (FRO) against defendant Anibal Crespo.

For those unfamiliar with judicial standards of proof, there are three levels:

  1. Beyond a reasonable doubt - the one you were taught about in grade school. This is the highest level of proof, used only in criminal cases. Restraining orders are tried as civil cases to allow the state to impose sanctions without having to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
  2. Clear and convincing evidence - an intermediate level of proof. The evidence must show that it's substantially more likely than not that the accusations are true.
  3. Preponderance of the evidence - the very lowest level of proof. The evidence must show only that it's slightly more likely than not that the accusations are true. If there's a 49% chance that the accusations are false, the accused will still have a restraining order issued against him. Combined with the enormous pressures on judges to err on the side of hidden harm, use of this standard virtually guarantees that restraining orders will be issued against a significant number of innocent men.

On June 18, 2008, the Honorable Francis Schultz's ruling made the criteria for a FRO to be "clear and convincing evidence" rather than a "preponderance of the evidence." The landmark ruling was expected to set the stage for unwarranted restraining orders to be vacated and prevent future unwarranted orders from being granted. But that ruling was overturned recently by the state's Appellate Division.

David Heleniak, Anibel Crespo's attorney, said that while it is a disappointing turn of events, people shouldn't give up hope. "The Appellate Division ruled against Mr. Crespo, but they are not the final word on constitutionality in New Jersey," he said.

Heleniak is working on taking the Crespo case to the New Jersey Supreme Court. You can read his brief requesting the court take the case at http://mediaradar.org/docs/crespo_petition_for_cert.pdf. In addition, he has another FRO case that could also end up in the hands of the State's highest court. The two-wave approach will make it more likely that the New Jersey Supreme Court will finally address the constitutional issues regarding domestic violence restraining orders.

Please stay updated on this groundbreaking effort and pass the information along to anyone who you think would benefit or make a difference.

Thanks for your help getting our message out.

Date of RADAR Release: August 4, 2009

R.A.D.A.R. – Respecting Accuracy in Domestic Abuse Reporting – is a non-profit, non-partisan organization of men and women working to improve the effectiveness of our nation's approach to solving domestic violence. http://mediaradar.org