If you've been served with a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) in New Jersey, you might be surprised when you show up in family court for your final hearing and discover that your significant other (or your children) are not present in the courtroom. In certain cases, New Jersey courts allow witnesses, victims, and/or plaintiffs to give testimony via closed-circuit television (CCTV). The use of closed-circuit testimony can sometimes have an impact on the outcome of the case—namely, whether or not the judge decides to issue a Final Restraining Order (FRO). Let's talk about how this form of testimony is used in restraining order cases—how it works, why it is legal, and how it might affect your case.
How Closed-Circuit Testimony Works
Closed-circuit testimony provides a way for a victim of abuse to testify without having to be in court with the defendant. This can help many people avoid trauma or intimidation that they may feel when being present with their abuser, which could cause them not to show up at all.
CCTV describes any audio-visual technology that makes it possible for a victim or witness to testify in court without being in the same room with the defendant. This is done so that they do not have to directly see their assailant during trial proceedings and cross-examination. CCTV is also frequently used when children are asked to testify in restraining order cases because it provides an added layer of safety and is less threatening for the children.
In New Jersey courtrooms, closed-circuit technology is configured as a one-way live broadcast from the victim/accuser to the courtroom where the defendant is seated—so the victim can give testimony and be seen in the courtroom but he/she cannot see or hear the defendant.
When/why CCTV Testimony Is Allowed in Restraining Order Hearings
For the past several years, New Jersey has allowed closed-circuit testimony in criminal trials if the witness was likely to experience emotional trauma at being in the same room with the accused. However, a restraining order hearing is a civil matter, not a criminal one. The CCTV provisions didn't apply to restraining order hearings until 2019, when NJ Rev Stat § 2A:84A-32.4 made closed-circuit testimony acceptable for both criminal and civil cases in which the witness/victim would be traumatized by an in-person hearing. Closed-circuit testimony is also frequently used to obtain testimony from children who may be suffering abuse and may be covered by the restraining order.
Disadvantages of Closed-Circuit Testimony for the Defendant in Restraining Order Hearings
Closed-circuit testimony can especially helpful for some plaintiffs in restraining order cases, but it also may have a number of disadvantages for defendants. If you are notified of a restraining order against you and are summoned to a hearing, here's why closed-circuit testimony might work against you:
- It blocks you from direct communication with your significant other. A courtroom isn't necessarily the best place for direct communication, but when someone is in the same room, you can observe non-verbal gestures and facial expressions that don't necessarily translate via video. Because the plaintiff can't see your responses to testimony, any remorse on your part will go unnoticed, making it more likely that the restraining order will be finalized.
- It can be equally traumatic when children are involved. Even though closed-circuit testimony is designed to protect children, young minds don't always understand why they are being blocked from direct contact with a parent. Likewise, you are hindered from conveying any kind of assurance to your child that you are not a threat. Both can be traumatic.
- It can be disorienting. Expecting to see your significant other in person only to discover them on a video feed can throw you off guard. It can make you feel instantly on the defensive—as though your guilt is already decided—and cause you to fumble any prepared remarks.
Why You Need an Attorney for Your Restraining Order Hearing
Finding a good lawyer to represent you during your FRO hearing is essential because these hearings often resemble criminal trials—and closed-circuit testimony can make it appear even more so. Your response to the complaints and allegations against you at this hearing can have a huge impact on whether you'll be able to return home, see your children, reunite with your partner, etc. An attorney will not only prepare you for what to say during testimony, but they'll also analyze whether or not there's enough evidence against you. An experienced attorney will also understand the dynamics of CCTV testimony and help ensure that your rights are protected.
If you have been served with a restraining order in New Jersey, or if you have been accused of violating a restraining order, hiring a good attorney can help ensure the best possible outcome. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has extensive experience helping restraining order defendants in New Jersey. Don't take chances with your future. Contact the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 today to discuss your options.