If you have been charged with a crime, the prosecutor may first present your case to a grand jury to gauge the strength of the state’s evidence in the matter. In some instances, a grand jury hearing will be used as a way to convince witnesses to provide oral testimony or documents that are relevant in a given matter. Let’s take a look at the grand jury process, how it differs from a traditional trial and the impact its decision could have on your case.
What Is a Grand Jury?
A grand jury is a group of up to 23 people who hear evidence in a case and decide whether to issue an indictment. An indictment means that there is reason to believe that the state could earn a conviction in your case. However, it does not decide whether you are guilty or innocent of a given crime. Your guilt or innocence can only be determined by a traditional jury during a formal trial. Accepting a plea deal is also considered to be an admission of guilt.
Your Attorney Isn’t Present During a Grand Jury Hearing
It is important to understand that your attorney is not inside of the courtroom during a grand jury hearing. This provides an important advantage for the prosecutor as there is no one to put evidence into context or otherwise push back against the narrative presented during this proceeding.
However, your attorney may have the opportunity to challenge a prosecutor’s conduct or ask for evidence to be suppressed during a pretrial hearing. In some instances, having evidence suppressed during a hearing or during trial can be enough to convince a prosecutor to drop the matter entirely.
Grand Juries Typically Have Subpoena Power
Grand juries are typically allowed to subpoena documents, witness testimony or any other information that they might find relevant in a given case. This is done by asking the judge overseeing the case to issue an order requiring an individual to testify or to produce a given document.
Generally speaking, the judge will honor any request to obtain information that a grand jury needs to determine if an indictment is warranted. If the subject of the subpoena fails to comply with the order to testify or take other actions, he or she could be held in contempt of court. That might result in jail time, a fine or other penalties as allowed by law.
What Is the Threshold to Obtain an Indictment?
In a traditional trial, a jury must unanimously decide that a person is guilty of a given charge. However, this is not true when it comes time to decide whether a person should be indicted or not. Typically, a grand jury only needs a supermajority to send a case to trial.
What Happens if a Grand Jury Chooses Not to Indict?
In many cases, a failure to obtain an indictment means that some or all charges against a defendant are dropped. Of course, the prosecutor in your case could choose to present new evidence in front of a new grand jury. Whether or not this happens will largely depend on the type of crime that you committed and if the case has received a lot of media attention.
Alternatively, the prosecutor may simply decide to take the matter to trial anyway regardless of how strong the evidence is. Often, it is easier to obtain a plea deal in a case when there is a tacit acknowledgment that the case against you is relatively weak.
The Importance of Hiring an Attorney to Help With Your Case
It is generally a good idea to hire an attorney the moment that you are charged with a crime or believe that you will be. Although legal counsel can do little to influence the grand jury process, he or she can start preparing for subsequent portions of the legal process. This may involve gathering witness statements, physical evidence or other information that might help to cast doubt upon the case against you.
Your legal counsel might also advise you to stay off of social media or to refrain from talking to anyone in person about your case. Doing so may help to avoid saying anything that might be used against you at trial.
If you are accused of a serious crime in New Jersey, you have to appear before a grand jury. A grand jury determines whether you should be indicted and go to trial. The decision depends on the prosecutor’s evidence. However, a grand jury cannot decide whether you are innocent or guilty.
Who Qualifies To Be In A Grand Jury?
A grand jury in New Jersey is composed of 23 individuals. All the individuals must be U.S. citizens and are selected randomly from tax records, voter registrations, and motor vehicle records. A juror must understand and read English. They should also have a clean criminal record. It is a requirement for counties in New Jersey to have at least one sitting always. Among the 23 individuals, one person is picked randomly to act as the grand jury’s leader. They are responsible for reading out decisions made by the jury.
All the proceedings are secret. The jurors are not allowed to discuss the details of the case outside the court. One of the reasons is to protect an undercover police officer or an informant. Their lives may be in danger if it is discovered that they testify in court, especially if it is an indictable crime. The other reason is to hide the identity of the accused, especially in cases involving minors.
Examples of Indictable Crimes
Once there is sufficient evidence, a grand jury returns a “true bill,” which results in an indictment. An indictment doesn’t necessarily mean that the accused is guilty. However, it shows that there is enough evidence for the accused to stand on trial. Below are examples of indictable crimes in New Jersey:
- First degree crimes- rape, homicide, drug, and illegal narcotics
- Second-degree crimes- kidnapping, aggravated arson, sex crimes, and burglary
- Third-degree crimes- theft, firearm offenses, and drug offenses
- Fourth-degree crimes- stalking, forgery, and some DIY offenses
What Does A Grand Jury In New Jersey Do?
In New Jersey, a grand jury hears evidence concerning serious crimes. They are referred to as felonies in other states, but they are indictable offenses in New Jersey. If there is insufficient evidence against the defendant, the jury will return a no bill. Moreover, a grand jury in New Jersey can decide to charge the accused with a less serious offense. The majority of the jurors must vote to return a “true bill.”
What Happens In A Grand Jury?
Typically, a grand jury is a prosecutor’s indictment tool. The prosecutor does everything in their power to ensure that the case proceeds to trial. After stating the defendant’s name and the case number, the prosecutor will present the available evidence, give reasons for the arrest to ensure that the defendant stands on trial. A stenographer is responsible for recording all statements made by witnesses, jurors, and the prosecutor during the proceedings.
After presenting the evidence to the grand jury, the prosecutor will leave the room to allow the grand jury to discuss and determine whether the case should proceed to trial. In New Jersey, the defendant or their attorney doesn’t appear before a grand jury. Therefore, the grand jury doesn’t hear what the defendant has to say. The defendant can testify if the prosecutor allows them.
If there is evidence that might exonerate the accused, the prosecutor should present it before the jury. If the evidence refutes the evidence, the grand jury will have to discuss to determine whether to continue with the indictment. However, if the prosecutor obtained the evidence through illegal means, the grand jury will have to dismiss the charges.
Can A Lawyer Help You With Your Indictment Case?
If you are being accused of an indictable crime in New Jersey, you should hire an attorney. With a criminal defense attorney’s help, there is a good chance the charges will be downgraded or dismissed. A criminal defense lawyer can prevent a grand jury from indicting you. An experienced attorney will independently investigate the charges against you and challenge weak cases.
A prosecutor will quickly agree to dismiss or reduce the charges once they discover that your defense team has a strong defense strategy. A criminal defense attorney will help you challenge a New Jersey grand jury’s makeup, especially if there are doubts about how the members were selected or summoned. The attorney can also challenge a juror if they are not legally qualified. A juror should not bias.
A grand jury investigation can be scary. Therefore, you need to understand the process and identify ways how you can defend yourself. Spodek Law Group has the largest team of experienced criminal defense attorneys to defend you against indictable offenses and help you fight for a dismissal. If it is impossible to fight for a dismissal, criminal defense attorneys at Spodek will ensure that you get the lightest sentence.