Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act (SASPA): An Update
The Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act (SASPA) went into effect just a couple of years ago. That said, not everyone understands what the law means. As noted in a prior article, SASPA allows sexual assault victims to obtain protective orders.
Just about everyone associates restraining orders with domestic violence. And, yes – sexual assault would be considered a predicate act in family matters. However, some sexual assault victims never had a relationship with their perpetrator. SASPA allows them to seek protection and restrain contact with the person who harmed them.
Restraining orders are taken quite seriously by the court. First, there is the matter of protecting the victim from further harm. Of course, this isn’t necessarily limited to physical contact. A restraining order is also intended to shield the victim from intimidation or harassment.
The latter was an element of concern in a recent New Jersey Appellate Court decision. Why did the court decide a restraining order could not be granted under SASPA?
Court Rules Against SASPA Order
R.L.U. v. J.P. was approved for publication by the court on December 4, 2018. Initials are used for confidentiality reasons. Notably, the case is considered precedential.
In 2005, J.P. pled guilty to endangering R.L.U., then an eleven-year-old girl. The victim stated that J.P. had sexual intercourse with her. Under current SASPA law, this would be considered a predicate act qualifying for an order of protection.
J.P.’s plea resulted in a three-year suspended sentence and lifetime parole supervision. The defendant was further ordered to register in compliance with Megan’s Law. Lastly, J.P. was instructed to avoid contact with R.L.U.
Fast forward to 2017. The defendant walks into a convenience store where R.L.U. works. J.P. breaks into an angry tirade and curses at the victim. Additionally, the defendant threatens to have R.L.U. fired from her job.
A week and a half later, J.P. returns to the store. This time he does not enter but stares at the victim through the glass. Most likely alarmed, R.L.U. calls the police and explains both her past and current encounters with the defendant.
Restraining Orders Granted
A temporary restraining order was granted against J.P. on March 27, 2017. A couple of weeks later, a Family Court judge issued the final restraining order. This was done after a two-day hearing.
In granting the final restraining order, the judge referred back to the 2005 incident. The judge determined that sexual intercourse with a minor constituted sexual assault. Therefore, the victim qualified for an order of protection under SASPA.
Upon review, the New Jersey Appellate Division disagreed. The Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act was not a law in 2005. Therefore, “SASPA cannot be used to impose a restraining order on defendant based on conduct that occurred before SASPA’s effective date.”
Had the restraining order stayed in place, J.P. faced the consequences of a parole violation. The law could not be used retroactively, and therefore he no longer has this concern as it pertains to this situation.