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New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. R.D. and S.D

March 12, 2012


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, Docket No. FN-07-148-11.

Per curiam.



Submitted: January 25, 2012

Before Judges Cuff and Lihotz.

In these consolidated appeals, R.D. and S.D. appeal from orders finding that each man sexually abused A.M., the stepdaughter of R.D. and the maternal granddaughter of S.D. Each defendant argues that the abuse finding is the product of erroneous evidentiary rulings and unsupported by competent evidence. We affirm.

Agnes*fn1 is the mother of five children. Defendant R.D. is the stepfather of Anna and Anthony, the oldest of Agnes's five children. He is the biological father of the three younger children. On October 20, 2010, ten-year-old Anna disclosed to her mother various sexual encounters between her and R.D. and her maternal grandfather S.D. that occurred between August and October 2010. Anna told her mother that on multiple occasions S.D. "humped" her and exposed his penis to her. Anna described in detail the manner in which she was approached by S.D., and the locations in the house where the incidents took place. Anna also informed her mother that R.D. wrapped his arms and legs around her body and put her hands down his pants.

The following day, when Anna repeated her disclosures to her mother, Agnes reported the allegations to the Division of Youth and Family Services (Division). Anna repeated these statements to a Division investigator, who informed the police.

At the fact-finding hearing, Anna did not testify. Her mother testified and related Anna's disclosures to her. Agnes testified she believed her daughter because S.D. sexually molested her as a child. She also stated that she worked without a day off between August and October. S.D. provided child care for the children while Agnes worked. On the day that R.D. sexually assaulted Anna, Agnes worked a double-shift and he watched the children. When Agnes confronted R.D., he did not deny the allegation. Rather, he told her he had to sleep. Anna also testified that she had observed increased episodes of bed-wetting, tearfulness and aggression by Anna since the reported assaults.

The Division caseworker who interviewed Anna, also testified at the fact-finding hearing. He stated that Anna provided a detailed disclosure of sexual abuse consistent with the disclosures to her mother.

Prior to the fact-finding hearing, Dr. Diane Snyder, a psychologist, conducted a clinical interview of Anna. The purpose of the interview was to identify any symptoms of maltreatment and to provide recommendations for treatment. Dr. Snyder rendered a report in which she concluded that the symptom pattern related by Agnes and Anna was consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder attributable to sexual abuse. She conceded that the symptoms could be attributed to bullying at school as well as sexual abuse. She ruled out bullying due to Anna's reports of recurrent flashbacks, suicidal ideation, and a desire to run away. Anna attributed all of these circumstances to her experiences with R.D. and S.D.

Defendants did not testify. Following a review of the documentary evidence and the testimony, Judge Furnari found that S.D. and R.D. sexually abused Anna.*fn2 The judge found that Agnes was an extremely credible witness and her testimony about Anna's accusations was sufficiently detailed. The judge accepted Dr. Snyder as an expert and admitted her report and testimony as evidence of Anna's emotional state following her disclosures. Judge Furnari found that Anna's disclosures were spontaneous and corroborated by the access each defendant had to her at the times Anna asserted the assaults occurred. The judge also found that Anna's emotional state following disclosure of the sexual assaults corroborated her allegations. The judge noted that R.D. did not deny the accusation when confronted with Anna's allegation by his wife.

On appeal, S.D. argues that he cannot be charged with abuse and neglect of a child because he was neither the parent nor guardian of Anna. He also contends Anna's statements to her mother were not admissible under the fresh complaint rule, Anna's allegations were not corroborated, Dr. Snyder was not qualified to render an opinion, and the finding of abuse and neglect is not supported by competent, material and reliable evidence. R.D. argues that Dr. Snyder should not have been permitted to testify because she had not completed the requirements for licensure as a psychologist. He also argues that her report should not have been admitted in evidence, and that Anna's various statements presented through the testimony of her mother, the caseworker and the psychologist were inadmissible hearsay.

S.D. argues that he is not a person within the scope of the child protective jurisdiction of the Division. He contends he was merely a visitor ...

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