Section Chief: Kelly Testa
Unit Commander: Sergeant Eric Wren

OVERVIEW

The Trial Team Unit in the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office is responsible for handling the majority of criminal matters after indictment in the County of Camden. The unit receives all cases indicted by the Grand Jury Unit as well as cases from every other unit in the office with the exception of the Special Prosecutions Unit. The Trial Team prosecutors handle these matters to conclusion. A case may be resolved by way of guilty plea or it may require a trial. In those instances where trials occur, the Trial Team prosecutors handle most motions associated with the prosecution. In 2012 Trial Team
handled over 1,000 sentences resulting from pre-indictment pleas and almost 6,000 Violation of Probation hearings.

In 2012, the Trial Team was responsible for approximately 2,050 new indictments in addition to the cases unresolved from prior years.

The cases handled by these prosecutors range in seriousness from relatively minor offenses all the way up to more serious matters such as rape, robbery, kidnapping and homicide prosecutions. In order to adequately address these matters, the Unit also conducts ongoing investigations required for trial and to rebut evidence presented by the defense.

DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES

The Trial Unit represents the State in the majority of all criminal proceedings in Superior Court of Camden County, including pretrial motions, plea negotiations, trials, sentencings, post-trial motions, petitions and violations of probation. The unit also represents the State in the Superior Court, Appellate Division and in the Supreme Court on interlocutory appeals filed during trial. The unit conducts and directs investigations required for trial preparation.

LEGAL STAFF:

Two attorneys constitute a trial team and are regularly assigned to each of eight criminal courtrooms where cases are scheduled. Each team of attorneys is responsible for all criminal matters before their assigned judge. The Section Chief or Deputy Section Chief routinely assumes the position of a trial team member when the unit is understaffed. The duties of these attorneys are as set forth in Section 1.

There is one supervising attorney assigned to this unit whose title is Chief Trial Attorney. In addition to the Section Chief, a Deputy Section Chief is a member of one of the trial teams and assists the Section Chief in his or her duties. The Section Chief is responsible for supervising the entire unit. The Section Chief’s duties include handling complex cases, monitoring performance and plea negotiations of the other attorneys, providing legal and trial tactics advice, general supervision and liaison with the judges assigned to the criminal division.

INVESTIGATIVE STAFF:

One trial investigator is normally assigned to each trial team. Due to staffing shortages, each investigator was assigned to assist three assistant prosecutors. Additionally, a Unit Commander/Operations Sergeant is assigned to the unit as the investigative supervisor. The investigative duties and responsibilities include securing witnesses’ attendance at trial (including subpoenas, telephone calls and transportation as necessary), securing physical evidence for trial, securing documentary evidence (such as police reports, hospital reports, laboratory reports, certified convictions, motor vehicle abstracts) maintaining files kept within the trial unit, locating files needed by the trial teams and victim-witness contact for pretrial preparation.

Pre-trial preparation, which is performed in conjunction with the prosecutor to develop additional evidence to use in the prosecution of the defendant, is an essential responsibility of the investigator. Based on the status of a case, an investigator may be required to further investigate the case, make additional arrests, collect evidence, process evidence and conduct surveillance. This includes identifying and securing additional witnesses as well as ensuring the cooperation of those witnesses that have previously been identified. The investigator needs to have the personality, skill and patience to develop a rapport with witnesses and victims who are not always willing to come to court and testify. Those reasons vary from being fearful of the defendant, apprehensive of the criminal justice system and those who are just indifferent to the needs of law enforcement in prosecuting those who violate the law. This ability is essential for an investigator who is assigned as a trial unit investigator. In addition, the investigator develops evidence to refute the defense claims.

In 2012 the investigators were also tasked with Security details, Central Judicial Process (CJP) rap sheet look-ups, walk-ins and Megan’s Law Notifications. One investigator was assigned to the Voice Stress Examiner (VSE) on-call duty and another instructed at the police academy. The Operations Sergeant was in-charge of the Investigative Intern Program and one investigator was assigned to assist with the Intern Program interviews. One investigator was assigned to the Gun Permits background checks (checked for juvenile records, domestic violence, restraining orders, family matters and criminal back ground checks). In addition there were numerous other duties assigned when necessary.

SUPPORT STAFF:

Duties are secretarial and clerical in nature. Our Principal Clerk Typist and Secretarial Assistant are responsible for a very large volume of transcription of statements, correspondence, legal memoranda, briefs, subpoenas, writs, telephones and file management.

In addition, the clerical staff must have a working knowledge of the criminal justice system and as well as the personality and temperament to handle a wide array of public inquires.

In 2012 our two senior clerical staff members were assigned to assist the seventeen attorneys on the Trial Team.

OVERALL RESPONSIBILITIES:

The Trial Unit is responsible for preparing cases that are ultimately tried in the Superior Court. The personnel assigned to the Trial Unit were responsible for 2,182 convictions in this office, the great majority of which were from guilty pleas.

The unit receives cases indicted by the Grand Jury Section, most of the cases indicted by the Child Abuse Unit, Domestic Violence Unit and the Narcotics Unit. The Unit also receives many cases from Major Crimes and Homicide Units. While much investigation has been completed, none of these cases are trial-ready and the trial unit is responsible for conducting further investigation to solidify the proofs so a reasonable plea agreement can be reached or a successful trial conducted.

All cases are divided among the eight trial teams who then prosecute the case to a conclusion. Each trial attorney is responsible for handling all post-indictment motions associated with the assigned cases. This involves preparing legal memoranda, presenting testimony and oral argument. The trial team will handle any Violation of Probation that results from a defendant not fulfilling the obligations placed upon them by the Court or probation.

Initially, each case is scheduled for an arraignment and status conference before a trial judge. The assigned attorney reviews each case thoroughly so that he or she is prepared to conduct plea negotiations at the status conference and take action to correct deficiencies in the file. If a guilty plea is not entered at the final pre-trial conference the case is assigned a trial date. The attorney again reviews the file to specify witnesses and evidence needed for trial and to advise the trial investigator as to what action must be taken to correct deficiencies and investigate defense claims. The secretary then prepares subpoenas that are either mailed or personally served if necessary. Copies of the subpoenas and the trial attorney’s instructions are given to the trial investigator who carries out the investigative assignment and secures the attendance of the witnesses. The trial, sentencing, and post-trial hearings are then conducted by the attorney.

In addition, when the need arises trial team attorneys are assigned appeals.