Submitted by New Jersey Domestic Violence Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
In early October 2015 the Superior Court New Jersey Family Part Law Division Ocean County addressed the introduction of texts existing on cell phones as proof of evidence in a domestic violence hearing.
In the modern context of harassment many courts have had to wrestle with victims of harassment establishing proof of harassment by repeated cell phone calls or texts. Often parties seeking a temporary restraining order will come in to court and try to hand the judge their cell phone as evidence to show the number of phone calls and or the number of text as well as the content of each text. They are trying to show the judge that the number of phone calls equals harassment and or the number of text and/or the content of the text equals harassment under New Jersey’s temporary restraining order and the Domestic Violence statute.
The law division judge ruled TRO parties must give each other advanced notice that text cell phone evidence will be introduced at the hearing. In addition copies of the text must be printed out and duplicates provided for the court. The court was trying to balance the notice issues and confrontation cause issues against the emergent nature of the hearing and need for a quick trial in restraining order matters. We have previously written articles outlining the requirement under the prevention of Domestic Violence Act requires all final hearings be completed within 10 days of the complaint. It is difficult for a litigant to print out and bring copies of the evidence at the initial hearing. The court, under these circumstances, did allow an adjournment to allow a complaint to print out copies of the texts and phone call list in order to support his/her case. The court ruled that the print out which the litigant brings to a final trial should have page numbers, triplicate copies, and any audio recordings, should be reproduced on a CD/DVD.
Obviously the purpose of the judge’s requirements are to ensure a factual record is established, maintained, and preserved for any appeal. Without such copies contained in the record the trial judge is limited in his ability to make findings of fact and conclusions of law pertaining to harassment, stalking, or other communications which violate that the Domestic Violence Act.
In other words, if you have cell phone texts you intend to use as evidence please make sure you get it to your attorney or bring it to court on the initial hearing so no adjournments are granted and you were able to secure the final restraining order at the first hearing date.