Are Medical Records Allowed in Restraining Order Cases?

When it comes to legal proceedings, especially those as personal and critical as restraining order hearings, the evidence can make all the difference. In New Jersey, restraining order hearings are a crucial legal measure designed to protect individuals from threats or acts of violence. One potent form of evidence in these hearings is medical documentation, which can substantiate claims of harm or injury. But how is medical evidence treated in the courts of New Jersey during these sensitive hearings? And what impact does it have on the outcome? 

If you are involved in a restraining order hearing, you should know the pivotal role that medical evidence plays in New Jersey. Specifically, it helps to know what the legal standards are that govern evidence admissibility. At the Lento Law Firm, we represent plaintiffs and defendants in restraining order cases, and we understand the tumultuous time you're likely going through. Our team can help ensure you have proper evidence for your hearing, as well as guide you through the entire restraining order hearing process. 

Call the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team at 888-535-3686 or fill out our online form to learn more about how we can help you. 

What Is a Restraining Order in New Jersey? 

A restraining order is a legal directive that may prohibit a defendant from contacting or approaching a plaintiff within a specified distance for a set period. This order serves as a protective measure to prevent further acts of violence. Often, restraining orders not only restrict contact with the protected individual but also limit interactions with the plaintiff's family, friends, acquaintances, roommates, and other relevant persons. Moreover, these orders can prevent the defendant from visiting the plaintiff's workplace or home, regardless of whether they share these spaces. If the order is in effect and the parties cohabit, the defendant is required to relocate. 

It is crucial to understand that restraining orders are binding legal documents and remain effective for the duration specified, regardless of any reconciliation between the parties involved. Thus, even if the plaintiff and defendant choose to interact while the order is active, the defendant could still be subject to criminal charges. A restraining order only ceases to apply when a judge officially revokes it. 

Who Can Get a Restraining Order in New Jersey? 

Under New Jersey law, individuals alleging domestic violence have the right to seek a restraining order. Judges often grant Temporary Restraining Orders (TROs) readily, opting to err on the side of caution. To qualify as a "victim of domestic violence" in New Jersey, a person must be: 

  • At least 18 years old (or an emancipated minor) who has experienced assault by a spouse, ex-spouse, or any current or former roommates or housemates. 
  • Someone who has suffered assault from an individual with whom they have a child or expect to have a child. 
  • Someone who has been assaulted by a dating partner. 

Additionally, New Jersey law permits individuals who allege they are victims of sexual misconduct to apply for a TRO. Sexual misconduct encompasses acts such as rape, sexual assault, attempted rape, and lewdness. 

The state also allows individuals to apply for a TRO if they are being stalked. If the defendant is later convicted of stalking, a restraining order related to the stalking accusation can be made permanent. 

Types of Restraining Orders 

A New Jersey court may issue one of two types of restraining orders: 

  1. Temporary Restraining Order (TRO): TROs are provisional and typically remain in effect until a hearing for a Final Restraining Order (FRO) can be conducted. These hearings are usually scheduled within ten days of issuing the TRO. The TRO has an expiration date but can be extended if the FRO hearing takes longer than ten days to occur. 
  2. Final Restraining Order (FRO): An FRO is permanent and is only granted after a comprehensive hearing where the defendant has the opportunity to present arguments against it. Unlike TROs, FROs do not have an expiration date and continue indefinitely unless the court decides to revoke them. 

Where Can You File a Restraining Order? 

If you want to file a restraining order during court hours, you can go to the Family Division Office of the Superior Court in the county where you live or are staying. If the courthouse is closed, you can go to the police department where you live, where the other person lives, or where the domestic violence happened. 

The Process for a Restraining Order Hearing in New Jersey 

If a judge issues a TRO and it is neither dismissed by the plaintiff nor resolved through civil restraints, the case will advance to a hearing for a FRO. This hearing typically occurs within ten days of the issuance of the TRO. 

All FRO hearings take place in the Family Part of the New Jersey Superior Court, conducted by a judge without a jury. At this hearing, the judge assesses the evidence and makes the final decision. The plaintiff bears the responsibility to prove that the FRO should be issued. 

During the hearing, both parties have the opportunity to present their narratives, along with witnesses and evidence. For the judge to grant the FRO, they must determine, based on the "preponderance of the evidence," that: 

  • The parties share a qualified domestic relationship, which may include current or former marriages, a dating relationship, shared household membership, or having one or more children together. 
  • The defendant committed an act of violence, which could include assault, harassment, terroristic threats, criminal restraint, stalking, sexual assault, false imprisonment, kidnapping, burglary, criminal mischief, criminal sexual contact, lewdness, criminal trespass, robbery, criminal coercion, cyber harassment, contempt of a domestic violence order constituting a crime or "disorderly persons offense," or any other crime involving the risk of death or serious bodily injury. 
  • There is a pressing need for restraints to prevent future acts of domestic violence. 

The evidence and testimony at the hearing must adhere to New Jersey court rules and evidence regulations, especially for medical records. Navigating this process can be complex, whether you are the plaintiff or the defendant. You should reach out to the Lento Law Firm Team for assistance with your restraining order. We help individuals deal with TROs and FRO hearings throughout New Jersey. 

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) 

Your medical records consist of documentation created by a healthcare provider during your visit, whether it's with a doctor or at a hospital. These records are confidential and protected under privacy laws enacted by the federal government. 

Medical records can encompass discussions of a patient's medical history, diagnoses, treatments, and other relevant medical details. They might include information about symptoms, discomfort, and any tests conducted. These records are typically kept in electronic health record systems. 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services clarifies that under HIPAA, patients have the right to "inspect, review, and receive a copy of their medical and billing records." Patients can also designate a personal representative to access their records. Medical providers are permitted to share your records with other healthcare professionals involved in your care, but beyond this, they must maintain the confidentiality of these records. 

Medical providers cannot withhold access to your records if you have not paid for services rendered. However, they are allowed to charge a reasonable fee to cover administrative costs, such as mailing or copying. It is important to note that notes taken during counseling or psychotherapy sessions by the professional are not considered part of medical records. 

Why Medical Evidence Matters in Restraining Order Cases 

Medical evidence indicating that a petitioner has suffered physical injury or sexual assault can be highly influential. This evidence might include written examination results or photographs. Can this sensitive and confidential information be presented or disclosed in an FRO hearing or other legal proceedings? 

HIPPA states that medical providers may be court-ordered to provide medical records. The order must specify which medical information is required, and the medical professional can only provide what is requested. 

Can the Court Subpoena Medical Records? 

The court or attorney on a case can also use a subpoena to ask for medical records. A medical provider can only provide the information requested in the subpoena if there is evidence that: 

  • The person who is the subject of the information about the request has been notified and given the chance to object 
  • The person asking for the subpoena sought a qualified protective order for the information from the court. 

As long as the subpoena complies with the above HIPPA privacy rule, the medical provider can disclose the case records.  

Medical Records and Photographs as Evidence in FRO Hearings 

Some of the most important rules of evidence concerning medical records in New Jersey include: 

  • Only certain parts of medical records can be used as evidence in hearings. 
  • A treating doctor's opinion or diagnosis is considered an "expert opinion," so it cannot be used as evidence unless the doctor comes to the hearing to testify. 
  • Facts and data from medical records are allowed to be used as evidence, but it can be unclear what the difference between "facts or data" and a "medical diagnosis" is. 

In order for a medical record to be used as evidence in a hearing, it must be authenticated. A custodian of the records (such as a hospital staff member) can be a qualified witness for medical records used in FRO hearings. The practitioner who made the record does not have to be the witness for the record to be used—unless the medical records contain opinions that will be used for cross-examination. 

It can be a bit confusing, so let's look at an example: If a patient reports pain in their arm to a doctor, that report can most likely be used as evidence. However, the doctor's explanation for the cause of that arm pain most likely cannot be used as evidence unless the doctor comes to the hearing to testify as an expert witness. 

When requested properly, medical records can be used in FRO hearings in New Jersey. Photos that are not part of the medical record, however, might be handled differently. The court can call the authenticity of the photos into question. If a party wants to present a photograph as evidence at an FRO hearing, there may need to be someone else to testify. 

Legal Representation at Restraining Order Hearings 

If you're dealing with a TRO in New Jersey, it's critical to obtain legal assistance immediately. If you are the defendant and your TRO is made permanent, it could indefinitely remain active and become part of the Domestic Violence Central Registry, affecting future records searches. If you are the plaintiff, you must ensure you remain safe, and having the proper evidence at the hearing makes all the difference. 

The final hearing is crucial for achieving a favorable outcome. While you don't need an attorney to go to the hearing, having one is highly recommended. There are confusing and nuanced rules of evidence you must follow, and if you don't follow them, you risk having a crucial medical record or other document thrown out of the hearing completely. With attorneys from the Lento Law Firm Team on your side, you won't have to worry about the administrative steps involved in the restraining order process. You can focus on keeping yourself safe and going about your daily life. 

Contact the Lento Law Firm Today 

For assistance with your restraining order, contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 to schedule a consultation. You can also fill out our contact form, and a member of our team will reach out to you. 

​​​Contact The Lento Law Firm Today

When it comes to criminal defense cases, you need the right person in your corner. To learn more about how Mr. Lento can help you, call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686. or contact him online.

This website was created only for general information purposes. It is not intended to be construed as legal advice for any situation. Only a direct consultation with a licensed Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York attorney can provide you with formal legal counsel based on the unique details surrounding your situation. The pages on this website may contain links and contact information for third party organizations - the Lento Law Firm does not necessarily endorse these organizations nor the materials contained on their website. In Pennsylvania, Attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout Pennsylvania's 67 counties, including, but not limited to Philadelphia, Allegheny, Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Chester, Dauphin, Delaware, Lancaster, Lehigh, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Schuylkill, and York County. In New Jersey, attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout New Jersey's 21 counties: Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Salem, Somerset, Sussex, Union, and Warren County, In New York, Attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout New York's 62 counties. Outside of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, unless attorney Joseph D. Lento is admitted pro hac vice if needed, his assistance may not constitute legal advice or the practice of law. The decision to hire an attorney in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania counties, New Jersey, New York, or nationwide should not be made solely on the strength of an advertisement. We invite you to contact the Lento Law Firm directly to inquire about our specific qualifications and experience. Communicating with the Lento Law Firm by email, phone, or fax does not create an attorney-client relationship. The Lento Law Firm will serve as your official legal counsel upon a formal agreement from both parties. Any information sent to the Lento Law Firm before an attorney-client relationship is made is done on a non-confidential basis.