As an innocent person accused of something truly horrendous — hurting or neglecting your child — you want to have your say and clear your name. The fact finding hearing offers you an opportunity to present evidence to combat what’s been said about you and to challenge evidence that you committed a wrongdoing.
The court wants to consider all information surrounding the allegations and to ensure the relevance and competence of all evidence. Be forewarned: DCPP may submit a lot of evidence, including interviews with you, the other parent, therapists, staff, teachers and other experts. Legally, this evidence is known as a “prima facie evidence,” and you and your attorney can have an opportunity to rebut and challenge it.
You might be also familiar with a concept called the “hearsay rule.” This legal rule limits how and when hearsay can be used as evidence in a court proceeding. For instance, if a witness sees or hears something directly, his or her testimony might be valid. But if that same person overhears a third-party report to have seen or heard something, such testimony normally cannot be used without an exception.
That may all sounds a little abstract. Here’s a concrete example to illustrate the difference.
Let’s say that a pre-school teacher saw you lose your temper and spank your child in the parking lot. That teacher’s testimony would be a first person account, and the court would generally want to take it into consideration. However, what if a mom at your pre-school overheard your child’s teacher talking about how you spanked your child in the parking lot? Could the mom testify against you? Her perspective would be considered hearsay, because she didn’t observe things directly; the court would likely reject the testimony as evidence.
Hopefully, that’s all pretty clear. But now things get a bit nuanced.
The records that DCP&P generate when they speak to anyone technically create what’s known as a “business record.” Without getting into the legal weeds, in this type of situation, sometimes hearsay can be admitted into the court record. This distinction can be crucial, since cases involving allegations of abuse and neglect often boil down to “he said, she said” arguments.
Even though hearsay can technically be used as evidence against you, the division must abide by very strict rules when introducing this evidence. A caseworker or consultant may get the court to consider a document based on firsthand knowledge gathered relatively soon after an alleged event or incident. The division will often pile on a lot of evidence, including documented conversations involving caseworkers, therapists, teachers, neighbors, etc.
Even if the records of these conversations are allowed, the hearsay rule can still govern what will be admissible as evidence. In addition, the caseworker himself or herself must testify about the conversations — someone else’s hearsay won’t be accepted.
For skillful, experienced assistance battling back against untrue allegations of child abuse or neglect, call the Williams Law Group, LLC immediately at (908) 810-1083.