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ROONEY: Process Proposed by Senator “[c]ould actually take months and cost you a lot of money and court time to get your weapons back”

DeMichele & DeMichele attorney Matt Rooney visited with the Fox29/My9’s Chasing New Jersey on Monday to discuss a controversial new proposal from the New Jersey legislature whereby an individual could obtain a ‘gun restraining order’ allowing police to seize firearms from allegedly mentally unstable family members. While the current state domestic violence law allows for the seizure of weapons from parties with restraining orders in place against them, the legislation promoted by state Senator Dick Codey, representing portions of Essex and Morris counties, would seemingly go much further and expand the scope of gun seizures well-beyond the confines of what we currently consider domestic violence…  

N.J.S.A. 2C:25-21(d) currently sets forth the following process for gun seizure in the domestic violence context:

d. (1) In addition to a law enforcement officer’s authority to seize any weapon that is contraband, evidence or an instrumentality of crime, a law enforcement officer who has probable cause to believe that an act of domestic violence has been committed shall: 

(a) question persons present to determine whether there are weapons on the premises; and 

(b) upon observing or learning that a weapon is present on the premises, seize any weapon that the officer reasonably believes would expose the victim to a risk of serious bodily injury. If a law enforcement officer seizes any firearm pursuant to this paragraph, the officer shall also seize any firearm purchaser identification card or permit to purchase a handgun issued to the person accused of the act of domestic violence. 

(2) A law enforcement officer shall deliver all weapons, firearms purchaser identification cards and permits to purchase a handgun seized pursuant to this section to the county prosecutor and shall append an inventory of all seized items to the domestic violence report. 

(3) Weapons seized in accordance with the “Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991”, P.L.1991,c.261(C.2C:25-17 et seq.) shall be returned to the owner except upon order of the Superior Court. The prosecutor who has possession of the seized weapons may, upon notice to the owner, petition a judge of the Family Part of the Superior Court, Chancery Division, within 45 days of seizure, to obtain title to the seized weapons, or to revoke any and all permits, licenses and other authorizations for the use, possession, or ownership of such weapons pursuant to the law governing such use, possession, or ownership, or may object to the return of the weapons on such grounds as are provided for the initial rejection or later revocation of the authorizations, or on the grounds that the owner is unfit or that the owner poses a threat to the public in general or a person or persons in particular. 

A hearing shall be held and a record made thereof within 45 days of the notice provided above. No formal pleading and no filing fee shall be required as a preliminary to such hearing. The hearing shall be summary in nature. Appeals from the results of the hearing shall be to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, in accordance with the law. 

If the prosecutor does not institute an action within 45 days of seizure, the seized weapons shall be returned to the owner. 

After the hearing the court shall order the return of the firearms, weapons and any authorization papers relating to the seized weapons to the owner if the court determines the owner is not subject to any of the disabilities set forth in N.J.S.2C:58-3c. and finds that the complaint has been dismissed at the request of the complainant and the prosecutor determines that there is insufficient probable cause to indict; or if the defendant is found not guilty of the charges; or if the court determines that the domestic violence situation no longer exists. Nothing in this act shall impair the right of the State to retain evidence pending a criminal prosecution. Nor shall any provision of this act be construed to limit the authority of the State or a law enforcement officer to seize, retain or forfeit property pursuant to chapter 64 of Title 2C of the New Jersey Statutes. 

If, after the hearing, the court determines that the weapons are not to be returned to the owner, the court may: 

(a) With respect to weapons other than firearms, order the prosecutor to dispose of the weapons if the owner does not arrange for the transfer or sale of the weapons to an appropriate person within 60 days; or 

(b) Order the revocation of the owner’s firearms purchaser identification card or any permit, license or authorization, in which case the court shall order the owner to surrender any firearm seized and all other firearms possessed to the prosecutor and shall order the prosecutor to dispose of the firearms if the owner does not arrange for the sale of the firearms to a registered dealer of the firearms within 60 days; or 

(c) Order such other relief as it may deem appropriate. When the court orders the weapons forfeited to the State or the prosecutor is required to dispose of the weapons, the prosecutor shall dispose of the property as provided in N.J.S.2C:64-6. 

(4) A civil suit may be brought to enjoin a wrongful failure to return a seized firearm where the prosecutor refuses to return the weapon after receiving a written request to do so and notice of the owner’s intent to bring a civil action pursuant to this section. Failure of the prosecutor to comply with the provisions of this act shall entitle the prevailing party in the civil suit to reasonable costs, including attorney’s fees, provided that the court finds that the prosecutor failed to act in good faith in retaining the seized weapon. 

(5) No law enforcement officer or agency shall be held liable in any civil action brought by any person for failing to learn of, locate or seize a weapon pursuant to this act, or for returning a seized weapon to its owner. 
Does the new legislative proposal go too far? You can watch Matt’s segment analyzing the forthcoming legislation below or right here: My9 New Jersey Text of Matt’s comments from the segment:
Attorney Matt Rooney took a different position. His firm handles divorces and family disputes and he said this could lead to a situation where people end up caught up in the system fighting for the return of weapons that were taken, even though they hadn’t done anything wrong. “What I think that Senator Cody isn’t saying is that it could actually take months and cost you a lot of money and court time to get your weapons back, and that as long as you own them legally, it is your constitutional right to have,” Rooney stated.
We’re here to help our clients navigate these difficult and often complex challenges, and we will naturally do our best to keep you abreast of any changes in the state of law. In the interim, if you are a New Jersey victim of domestic violence and need help in the court room, or if you have been accused of committing an act or acts of domestic violence and you are trying to grapple with the consequences including firearm seizure, then please contact Matt Rooney and the other domestic violence attorneys at DeMichele & DeMichele online today or call (856) 546-1350 to speak wit a lawyer at our firm. We will set up a confidential consultation with one of our experienced attorneys.  
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