No Child Hearsay Exception in NJ DCP&P Guardianship Cases
The New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, recently ruled in a case of first impression that the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (“DCP&P”) may not rely solely on uncorroborated hearsay testimony from children when parental rights are at stake. In DCP&P v. T.U.B. and J.E.C., A-2565-15 (May 22, 2017), the court held that Title 30 does not does not permit uncorroborated out-of-court child statements to be sufficient evidence to terminate a parent’s rights.
In this case, J.E.C. was accused of sexual assault by his girlfriend’s daughters. After an investigation, DCP&P substantiated J.E.C. for child abuse and removed his son from his care. Eventually, at a termination of parental rights trial, the trial court relied heavily on the girls’ uncorroborated hearsay statements and terminated J.E.C.’s rights to his son. According to the Appellate Division opinion, the trial judge based his decision on Title 9’s evidentiary rules, specifically N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.46(a)(4), which permits previous statements made by a child relating to any allegations of abuse or neglect to be admissible in evidence. (The rules stipulate, however, that no such statement, if uncorroborated, shall be sufficient to make a fact finding of abuse or neglect.)
After careful analysis, the NJ Appellate Court concluded “that the plain meaning of this statutory provision confines the use of this special pathway for the admission of hearsay by children to Title 9 proceedings and does not extend to Title 30 guardianship trials involving the termination of parental rights.” This case highlights the subtle nuances of Title 9 child abuse and neglect law and Title 30 termination of parental rights law. That’s why it is so important to be represented by experienced counsel when it comes to litigation with DCP&P.
If you have been accused of child abuse or neglect by DCP&P, or if the Division has filed a complaint against you to terminate your parental rights, call the experienced DCP&P defense team at the Tormey Law Firm to learn about how you can fight for your family and protect your rights.