Section Chief: Assistant Prosecutor Joe MacNamara
Unit Commander: Lieutenant Eric Wren
Grand Jury – 856 225-8550
Pre-Indictment Conference Info 856-225-5147
The Grand Jury Unit is the starting point for the majority of the cases referred to the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office. The Unit handles about 75 percent of all cases that come to the office. Of all the complaints the Grand Jury Unit referred to this office in 2018, they retained approximately 41 percent for pre-indictment resolutions and presentations to the Grand Jury. The Grand Jury Unit Assistant Prosecutors downgraded approximately 52 percent of all complaints and dismissed less than 1 percent of all complaints.
The Grand Jury Unit continues the investigation into complaints that are filed in the thirty-seven municipalities in the County, as well as from informal referrals from the Board of Social Services, Department of Health and Senior Services, escapes from correctional institutions and absconding from Parole. The Unit does not, as a general rule, initiate independent investigations on its own.
Duties & Responsibilities:
In general, every criminal complaint, whether on a summons or a warrant, issued within Camden County, is sent electronically from a municipal police department to Centralized Judicial Processing (CJP). The municipal departments then scan their police reports directly into the Info Share case management system. This electronic screening program enables Assistant Prosecutors to make the initial screening decision within days (sometimes hours) after a defendant’s arrest. Assistant Prosecutors evaluate the strength of each case and make the decision as to whether to refer the case for further investigation, downgrade the case and return it to the municipality, or dismiss the matter. Once an Assistant Prosecutor makes the screening decision electronically and refers the case to the Grand Jury Unit, a Sergeant assigns each case to a member of the investigative staff. The detectives and agents review the reports, follow-up and supplement the investigation as needed, and obtain all statements, documents, photographs and/or video. They ensure that reports and/or statements are available prior to the Pre-Indictment Conference (PIC) so that meaningful negotiations can occur. On occasion, their investigation may also show that prosecution is not warranted. The Detectives work closely with the Assistant Prosecutors so that prosecution decisions are made effectively and efficiently.
The Criminal Justice Reform Act:
In January 2017, as part of the implementation of the Criminal Justice Reform Act in New Jersey; the Grand Jury Unit accelerated and expanded the screening process to handle the additional mandated hearings and corresponding time constraints imposed with these reforms. Even with these major changes, the Assistant Prosecutors in the Grand Jury Unit are still the first to review each, and every, filed complaint.
Under the new law, the timing of the first scheduled court appearance for defendants charged out of any municipality with an indictable offense, depends upon whether the defendant was charged on a complaint-summons or a complaint-warrant.
Whereas certain enumerated offenses are required to be placed on warrant per New Jersey statute and Attorney General’s Directive, other offenses now require a multi-step process in order for an officer to determine whether to charge a defendant on a warrant versus a summons, including the addition of an Affidavit of Probable Cause, the completion of the automated Preliminary Law Enforcement Incident Report (PLEIR), subsequent Pre-Trial Risk Assessment, and mandated compliance with Live Scan fingerprinting, all of which are reviewed by the Assistant Prosecutors. Defendants who are charged on a warrant, and subsequently arrested on that charge, must be transported to the Camden County Correctional Facility to await their Centralized First Appearance (CFA) hearing. Each defendant must have a CFA hearing in front of a Superior Court Judge within 48 hours of arrest. CFAs are held six days a week in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. The Assistant Prosecutor handling CFAs may appear in person or via video conference. At the CFA hearing, a determination is made by the Assistant Prosecutor, based on his or her review of the case, whether defendants may be released on their own recognizance, released at various levels of monitoring, or held over for a Detention Hearing.
If an Assistant Prosecutor files for detention at the time of the CFA hearing, that defendant remains incarcerated until the Detention Hearing. Detention Hearings are typically held within two days of the CFA and are required to be held within five days of arrest. While some enumerated offenses, such as murder, dictate mandatory detention, the vast majority of crimes are categorized as “presumed detention,” or “presumed release,” and the State then argues the detention motion with the use of case-specific facts. Assistant Prosecutors will move for detention based upon several factors including the severity of the offense, whether it was crime of violence, and a defendant’s criminal history. Likewise, Assistant Prosecutors may also agree to a defendant’s release – contingent upon different levels of pre-trial monitoring – or withdraw the State’s motion altogether. Defendants who are detained by the Court at their Detention Hearing are remanded back to the jail to await their trial date. Cases involving incarcerated defendants are subjected to increased time constraints imposed upon the State, including 90 days to indictment. Pursuant to the Criminal Justice Reform Act, should the State fail to indict a detained defendant within that 90-day time frame, the Court must release the defendant from the jail.
Complaints charging defendants on a warrant in which the defendant has not yet been arrested, are also referred to the Grand Jury Unit. The Grand Jury Unit continues to investigate the case, often indicting the matter before the defendant is ever arrested. A CFA hearing is then held within 48 hours of that defendant’s eventual arrest. Unlike defendants charged on a warrant, defendants charged on a summons are given a CJP date assigned by the Court, usually two weeks from the issuance of the complaint.
Once an Assistant Prosecutor makes the initial screening decision electronically and refers the case to the Grand Jury Unit, the Sergeant assigns each case to a member of the investigative staff. The Detectives and Agents review the reports, follow-up and supplement the investigation when needed, and obtain all statements, documents, photographs and/or video. They ensure that reports and/or statements are available prior to PIC so that meaningful negotiations can occur. On occasion, their investigation may also show that prosecution is not warranted. The investigative staff works closely with the legal staff so that prosecution decisions are made effectively and efficiently.
When a case is deemed appropriate for prosecution, and does not resolve through either a pre-indictment plea or by admission to an alternative program such as PTI, VDP, or Drug Court, it is then completed by the investigative staff and an Assistant Prosecutor prepares the case for presentation to the Grand Jury. Clerical personnel schedule the matter and send out subpoenas for Grand Jury presentment. Currently, Grand Jury panels serve four days per week for thirteen weeks.
Assistant Prosecutors present the cases to the Grand Jury, where officers from around the county, as well as our Detectives and Agents, are called to testify. If the Grand Jury returns a True Bill, the clerical staff generates the formal indictments. The indictments are reviewed by the Assistant Prosecutors and then the clerical staff coordinates the filing of the Indictments with Court personnel. Indictments are matters of public record and are frequently the subject of news releases from our office. If the Grand Jury returns a No Bill, the matter is administratively dismissed, and the clerical staff notifies all appropriate agencies and interested parties.
The Grand Jury Unit is also responsible for handling the numerous pretrial motions filed by defense counsel. Detention Revocations, Probable Cause Motions and Motions to Dismiss are all handled by the Assistant Prosecutors in the unit. They also handle requests for discovery and provide legal advice to state and local police departments as needed. After cases have proceeded through indictment, the matter is scheduled for post-indictment court appearances, and the prosecution of the case is transferred to the Trial Team Unit.
As part of overall Criminal Justice Reform, changes were also made to how cases are handled at the Pre-Indictment Conference (PIC). Now, regardless of whether a defendant has been charged on a summons or warrant, when defendants appear at CFA, they are automatically assigned a PIC date by the Court. PIC is the next stage in the judicial process, and the PIC date is scheduled within 45 days of the CFA. The Superior Court requires every defendant to appear and issues a Bench Warrant for any defendant who fails to appear. PIC provides an opportunity for a case to be disposed of early in the criminal justice process. PIC is held every Wednesday in Superior Court and there are usually between 80 and 100 cases scheduled. The Assistant Prosecutors review each case and make a plea offer for each scheduled defendant. Defendants who appear at PIC may resolve their cases by pleas of guilty to accusations or disorderly person offenses or acceptance into PTI.
The Grand Jury Unit’s investigative and clerical staff plays an important role in both CFA and PIC events. When victims contact our office regarding CJP dates, the clerical staff informs them of the disposition of the matter and explains the process to them. They also track files throughout the process of PIC. Detectives generate letters to notify victims of the PIC date. In 2015, the Prosecutor’s Office began making all discovery available online to defense counsel for PIC through an electronic portal. Additionally, the clerical staff creates and sends out any discovery that must be in CD format to defense counsel in advance of PIC.
Another program that is administered by the Grand Jury Unit is the Pretrial Intervention Program (PTI). PTI was created by the Legislature and Supreme Court and is intended to provide first time, non-violent offenders with the opportunity to avoid the stigma of a criminal prosecution by diverting them prior to a finding of guilt. Those defendants agree to conditions of up to three years probation, fines, and community service and, if successful, the charge is ultimately dismissed. Grand Jury Unit Assistant Prosecutors are responsible for appearing at any hearings to argue appeals on denials of entry into the program, terminations from the program, and issues of restitution to the victims. In addition, the Assistant Prosecutors are also responsible for composing detailed letters to defendants regarding their acceptance into, or rejection from, PTI. In 2018, there were nearly 400 applicants for PTI, with over half being accepted into the program.
VETERANS DIVERSION PROGRAM:
Additionally, in 2017, the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office launched the Veterans Diversion Program (VDP) which is overseen and administered by the Grand Jury Unit. The purpose of this program is to identify eligible veteran-defendants at their earliest contact with the criminal justice system and to provide them with vital services and support through a treatment-based early intervention program. This program is open to any Veteran or active-duty military person who suffers from mental illness and is charged with specific non-violent offenses, including petty disorderly persons offenses and/or crimes of the third and fourth degree. The VDP includes supervision and monitoring of the Veteran’s treatment by an approved treatment provider, the Veteran’s Administration (VA), the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office and a volunteer mentor. Participants must meet all diversion requirements to remain in the VDP, and the program must be successfully completed within two years of the date of the diversion. Participants who successfully complete the program, continue to make progress with mental health and/or substance abuse treatment, and have not been subject to any subsequent criminal charges, shall have their charges dismissed.
The Grand Jury Unit also administers the Drug Court Programs – both Juvenile and Adult. Approximately 1082 defendants applied for Drug Court in 2018 and approximately 560 (52%) were accepted into the program. The two Assistant Prosecutors assigned to Drug Court coordinate alternative pleas, drug court sentences and violations of probations. These same Assistant Prosecutors attend all drug court team evaluations, weekly monitoring sessions, and statewide meetings on behalf of Camden County.