NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF CHILD PROTECTION AND PERMANENCY VS. J.D., JR. AND J.G. IN THE MATTER OF J.D., III A-3716-14T4Defendant J.D., Jr. appeals the trial court's finding that he abused or neglected his ten-year-old son, in violation of N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21(c). No witnesses testified at the fact- finding hearing. The parties agreed to forego the presentation of witnesses and to have the trial court decide the disputed matter based solely on redacted copies of police reports of the incident and investigation summaries prepared by the Division of Child Protection and Permanency.
In this appeal, the court rejects defendant's belated challenge to the admission of the documents as barred by the invited error doctrine. The court also applies the principle that hearsay is generally evidential if no objection is made. Here, the trial judge gave the appropriate weight to the objectionable hearsay, and the record supports the judge's finding that defendant abused or neglected his son by leaving him unattended in a vehicle in the late evening while defendant entered a bar, became intoxicated, and attempted to flee the police.
The court nonetheless expresses concern over the dangers inherent in adjudicating contested trials based solely on documentary evidence. The procedure employed here, that is, submitting redacted documents in lieu of testimonial evidence, does not lend itself to the resolution of disputed factual issues or credibility determinations. Thus, even when the parties acquiesce to a trial "on the papers," the court cautions that fact-finding hearings that bear upon the welfare of children must still adhere to fundamental rules of evidence and be conducted with the formality and decorum attendant to any other adjudicative proceeding.