Defense Seeking De Minimis Dismissal in Harassment Case

There are some actions that may violate the letter of the law, but which are ultimately deemed so trivial that no charges are filed. Criminal defense professionals are familiar with helping defendants argue for a “de minimis” dismissal in these situations.

In a recent case from a community just east of Morristown, a man in his late forties had been dumped by his girlfriend of over a year. Distraught, he tried to contact her to reconcile by email, text message and by calling her at home and work. However, his efforts had the opposite of the intended effect when she called the police. An officer listened to the “short, apologetic messages,” which he did not consider to be threatening; the woman declined to seek a restraining order.

The attempts continued and after a second call to police, they advised the man to stop contacting her. Finally a third call to police lead to a format complaint of harassment – strictly speaking, a form of domestic violence — against the man. His defense is arguing that the charges should be dropped on de minimis grounds, noting that sometimes it’s a heartbroken partner’s determination that actually wins that second chance; just not in this case.

When a New Jersey judge dismisses a case as de minimis, on the one hand, that judge is basically accepting that the allegations against the defendant are true. On the other hand, there is no ruling as to whether the defendant is guilty or innocent in this situation. And alleged victims, if there are any, are not given the opportunity to argue their side.

Some charges that often get dropped in this way include stealing some candy from a store or perhaps a minor taking just a sip of wine or beer. Defendants facing serious charges with long-term consequences for minor, trivial incidents like these may wish to consult with a criminal defense professional as to whether the de minimis approach might be a strategy worth pursuing.

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