If New Jersey's Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P) has concluded that you committed child abuse or neglect and has entered your name in the state's child abuse registry, then you may have appeal rights to overturn that finding and remove your name from the registry. Even if DCP&P did not substantiate abuse allegations, you might want to appeal a determination that leaves you at risk of future investigations and abuse findings. Retain New Jersey DCP&P defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm's Defense Team for your New Jersey DCP&P appeal. Your care and custody of your child, your parental relationship and rights, and your reputation and record are all hugely important to you. Get the best available DCP&P appeal representation for your best possible outcome.
Whether to Appeal a DCP&P Decision
If you are considering a DCP&P appeal, then you've already suffered an adverse DCP&P decision. You should have received DCP&P's letter notifying you of its findings, decision, and actions. A DCP&P case is civil, not criminal. Although prosecutors could charge you with child abuse or neglect related to a DCP&P case, the DCP&P case itself only determines your child's removal, placement, and protection, not whether you are guilty under New Jersey Code Section 9:6-3 of a child abuse and neglect crime. But the DCP&P decision in your case still decides your hugely important child rights, record, and relationship. DCP&P may make one of the following four progressively more-serious decisions in your case, determining, jeopardizing, or terminating your significant rights. The nature of each decision should determine whether you appeal, the appeal process, and your appeal rights.
DCP&P Unfounded Decisions
DCP&P may find that the abuse and neglect allegations against you are unfounded. An unfounded determination means that DCP&P will not place your information in the state's Child Abuse Registry and will likely expunge your investigation record after three years, although it could keep your record for longer if, for instance, you face subsequent child abuse and neglect investigations. An unfounded determination is a big win, indicating that the allegations have no factual basis and exonerating you from any reliable indication of abuse and neglect. If you were the accused parent, you would not ordinarily desire to appeal an unfounded decision. A win is a win.
DCP&P Not Established Decisions
DCP&P may instead find that the abuse and neglect allegations against you are not established. A not-established determination means DCP&P will not place your information in the Child Abuse Registry but will retain your investigation records rather than expunge them after three years. A not-established determination is a win but not a complete win like an unfounded determination. A not-established determination indicates that the abuse and neglect complaint may have had some factual basis, and you may have exposed your child to a risk of harm, but not to the point that you committed abuse and neglect. DCP&P's retention of your investigation record could contribute to more-serious findings against you in a later case. That's why DCP&P would retain the record, to potentially use it to support additional evidence it gathers from subsequent incidents and complaints. You may wish to appeal a not-established decision for that reason, but your appeal process and forum would differ, and your appeal rights are limited. Retain and consult attorney Lento to determine whether to appeal a not-established determination.
DCP&P Established Decisions
DCP&P may instead find that the abuse and neglect allegations against you are established. An established determination means DCP&P will not place your information in the Child Abuse Registry but will keep your investigation record. An established determination could have a serious impact on a future DCP&P case, increasing your chance of losing your child or children. An established determination can also affect your ability to keep or obtain employment relating to children and your adoption opportunities and opportunity to become a foster or resource parent. You may thus have good reasons to appeal an established determination, depending on your circumstances and interests, the nature of your DCP&P case, and the evidence supporting the established determination. Retain and consult attorney Lento to determine whether to appeal an established determination.
DCP&P Substantiated Decisions
DCP&P may instead find that the abuse and neglect allegations against you are substantiated. A substantiated determination means that DCP&P may remove your child from the home for placement in protective care. DCP&P may also restrict your contact with your child, enter your information in the Child Abuse Registry, and retain your record permanently. Your information's entry in the Child Abuse Registry means that it will appear when a court, prosecutor, or agency makes a Child Abuse Registry Information (CARI) check. The public does not have direct access to conduct a CARI check. But Child Abuse Registry is permanent unless removed on appeal. And a substantiated determination in the Registry could have severe collateral consequences affecting your employment, other opportunities, and reputation. A substantiated determination could also lead the local prosecutor to bring criminal charges against you in the local criminal court for abuse and neglect under New Jersey Code Section 9:6-3. A substantiated determination is thus a total loss, one that you may have the strongest of incentives to appeal. Retain attorney Lento to help you perfect and pursue that appeal, to challenge and overturn the DCP&P's substantiated determination.
DCP&P Administrative Appeals
Administrative Appeal Authority
You have the right to appeal either a DCP&P substantiated determination or a DCP&P established determination against you if DCP&P concludes its investigation of abuse and neglect allegations with one of those two adverse determinations. Previously, you could only take a direct appeal of a substantiated determination, but a 2017 appellate case in New Jersey Div. of Child Prot. & Permanency v. V.E. (In re R.S.), 448 NJ Super 374, 153 A3d 941 (N.J. Super. 2017), granted direct appeals from established determinations, too. Your retained defense attorney ordinarily files your appeal within twenty days of the DCP&P decision with the Office of Administrative Law. Administrative regulations beginning at New Jersey Admin. Code Section 3A:5-1.1 provide detailed appeal procedures. The Office of Administrative Law assigns your appeal to an administrative law judge. A district attorney general (DAG) generally represents the DCP&P, advocating that the administrative law judge uphold the DCP&P decision. Your retained defense attorney may communicate with the district attorney general regarding whether the DCP&P would reverse or modify its decision without waiting for the administrative law judge's decision.
Administrative Appeal Hearing
Under New Jersey Admin. Code Section 3A:5-4.1, your administrative appeal of a DCP&P substantiated or established decision gives you and your retained attorney the opportunity to appear at a hearing before the administrative law judge to present evidence and arguments for reversing or modifying the DCP&P decision. Unlike the DCP&P investigators and officials who made the initial DCP&P determination, the administrative law judge is an independent and unbiased adjudicator trained to determine the legal sufficiency of the DCP&P's evidence. New Jersey Statute 9:6-8.46 establishes the evidentiary rules for the hearing. Those rules permit both sides to present only competent, material, and relevant evidence. The administrative law judge should hold DCP&P to the burden of proof, making it DCP&P's responsibility to prove the allegations more likely than not.
DCP&P Appeal Grounds
The administrative appeal hearing gives your retained attorney the opportunity to show grounds for reversing or modifying the DCP&P substantiated or established determination. Your retained attorney's skilled advocacy may convince the administrative law judge that the DCP&P has not met its proof burden with competent, material, and relevant evidence to uphold the DCP&P decision. In that case, the administrative law judge would reverse or modify the decision. Proving an abuse allegation substantiated requires DCP&P to present evidence like repeated instances of physical abuse, hospitalization or other medical care for abuse or neglect injuries, or exposure to inappropriate sexual activity. Absent this evidence, DCP&P must generally show aggravating factors like a pattern of abuse or neglect or lasting emotional or physical impacts. The administrative law judge may also consider mitigating factors that your retained defense attorney presents, including things like your history of attending to your child's needs and care and the absence of any abuse history. Mitigating factors may lower the finding from substantiated to established.
DCP&P Court Appeals
You do not have the right to appeal a DCP&P not-established determination through the Office of Administrative Law before an assigned administrative law judge. However, you may have the right to appeal a DCP&P not-established determination to the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court under New Jersey Admin. Code Section 3A:5-2.8 generally provides for appeals of any final DCP&P decision. But appeals to the Superior Court of a DCP&P not-established determination are under a different review standard than the standard an administrative law judge applies to hear a DCP&P substantiated or established determination. Your Superior Court appeal would generally have to show that the DCP&P not-established decision was arbitrary and capricious, to the point that the Superior Court must determine the decision unfounded.
DCP&P Appeal Defense Attorney Services
Appeal hearings require considerable advocacy skills. Retain premier New Jersey DCP&P defense attorney Joseph D. Lento for the best outcome of your DCP&P appeal hearing. Attorney Lento has the substantial skills and experience required for your most-effective appeal hearing representation. Attorney Lento and the Lento Law Firm Defense Team can evaluate the DCP&P's incriminating evidence, gather exonerating and mitigating evidence, organize your evidence into a compelling defense case, and present that evidence at the appeal hearing. Attorney Lento can also cross-examine DCP&P witnesses and challenge DCP&P exhibits and interpretations, to ensure that the administrative law judge understands and interprets the evidence accurately in your favor. Attorney Lento can also help you prepare your own truthful and compelling testimony for the hearing so that you get to tell the administrative law judge your side of the story if that testimony is your best strategic approach. Your testimony and evidence may help you establish child discipline, religious freedom, or other parental rights, responsibilities, and interests explaining important case context and circumstances. Appeals can also require or benefit from written briefs, summaries, and other submissions that attorney Lento and the Lento Law Firm Team can prepare and submit on your behalf. In sum, attorney Lento's skilled and experienced advocacy may show the administrative law judge that you did not abuse or neglect your child and that DCP&P has not met its proof burden to uphold its substantiated or established determination.
Premier DCP&P Appeal Services Available
You can have everything related to your child at stake, including your child's care, custody, and relationship, in a DCP&P appeal. You can also have your own personal interests at stake, including things like employment, family relationships, and reputation. With so much on the line in your DCP&P appeal, you need the best available defense attorney representation. You have every reason to trust premier New Jersey DCP&P defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm Defense Team for that skilled DCP&P appeal representation. Attorney Lento's many satisfied clients can attest to the value of attorney Lento's skills and the high quality of attorney Lento's commitment, from attorney Lento's having successfully appealed and defended their DCP&P cases. Call 888.535.3686 or go online now to retain the premier DCP&P defense attorney you need for your best outcome.