Cell phones have become a convenient way to store communications as well as an integral part of presenting evidence like photos, videos, and text messages. However, the rules of evidence have not always been in line with advances in technology. Recently, Ocean County Superior Court Judge Lawrence Jones ruled in favor of new guidelines to be followed in domestic violence and family law cases regarding the introduction of evidence on mobile phones.
There are several issues with cell phone evidence that these new guidelines aim to resolve, including the inability to read a full document on a small screen, issues with allowing the judge and the parties to view the evidence at the same time, problems preserving the evidence on the record, and difficulty hearing voicemails or recordings.
In the case at hand, E.C. v. R.H., the plaintiff alleged she was being harassed through text messages, social media, and voicemails. She asked the Court to enter a final restraining order against the defendant and aimed to introduce evidence directly from her cell phone to show the threatening messages.
However, Judge Jones ruled that the following new cell phone requirements should be met prior to the evidence being introduced in court:
- Tangible Form. Cell phone evidence in domestic violence cases must be submitted to the court in tangible form. Audio recordings should be presented on a CD or cassette and video recordings should be produced on DVD.
- Printed on Paper. Text messages, emails, photos, and social media messages should be printed on paper. Three copies of the printouts should be submitted with page numbers in the lower right corner.
- Advance Notice. Litigants should be given advance notice that hard copies of cellphone evidence must be provided prior to a hearing.
Under The Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA), a hearing should be held within 10 days of the complaint being filed. However, in a recent case where the plaintiff sought a restraining order, the judge adjourned the case for one week to allow both parties to obtain hard copies of evidence they saved on their phones. The one-week adjournment of the hearing to transfer the cell phone evidence into hard copy form was ruled an appropriate extension of the hearing rule under the PDVA.
The way evidence in family law and domestic violence cases is submitted is expected to become more streamlined with these new standards in place and other counties will likely adopt similar guidelines in the future. For legal assistance with a restraining order in New Jersey, contact Adam H. Rosenblum of The Rosenblum Law Firm at 888-815-3649.