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Sunday, December 18, 2016

NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF CHILD PROTECTION AND PERMANENCY VS. S.G.IN THE MATTER OF A.G. AND G.W.G. A-2533-14T3


 NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF CHILD PROTECTION AND PERMANENCY VS. S.G.IN THE MATTER OF A.G. AND G.W.G. 
A-2533-14T3 
Defendant S.G. appeals the trial court's finding that she abused or neglected her two-year-old daughter, in violation of N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21(c). The trial court found that because defendant permitted drug use and drug dealing in the home where she and her daughter resided, and took no discernable steps to mitigate her daughter's exposure, her conduct was reckless and put her child at substantial risk of harm. 
No witnesses testified at the fact-finding hearing. The parties agreed to forego the presentation of witnesses and to have the trial court decide material facts in dispute based solely on redacted copies of a police report detailing the events leading up to and occurring on the date of the drug raid and investigation summaries prepared by the Division of Child Protection and Permanency. 

Since a determination of abuse and neglect requires a fact-sensitive analysis of particularized evidence, we hold that witness testimony was necessary to provide the court with the necessary facts to determine whether defendant exercised the requisite minimum degree of care under the circumstances. Merely reciting information found in redacted documentary evidence does not constitute fact-finding. This is especially so when there are unresolved and disputed details regarding facts of consequence to the determination of an abuse or neglect finding. Thus, although the parties acquiesced to a trial "on the papers," the court would have been better equipped to perform its role as fact-finder had these matters been developed more fully with evidence at a testimonial hearing.