At The Bianchi Law Group, LLC., our NJ Supreme Court Certified Criminal Trial Attorneys are asked daily to explain the difference between a criminal complaint and the Grand Jury process.
Typically, the criminal process is commenced by the filing of a criminal complaint alleging a violation of our criminal code, known as the 2C laws.
What are Criminal Complaints in New Jersey
Crimes listed in the 2C range from 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th degree crimes. Each category of crime carries a different sentencing range. It should be noted that the 2C also has disorderly and petty disorderly offenses listed, as well. However, disorderly and petty disorderly persons offenses in New Jersey are not considered crimes, but rather, “offenses” under our law.
When a person is charged with any 2C offense in New Jersey it is commonly done on a “complaint.” This form gives basic information about the offense charged, the person charged, and date of offense. The complaint starts the criminal justice process.
If the offense charged is a disorderly or petty disorderly persons offense, it will be forwarded to a municipal prosecutor, as “minor” offenses are handled in the municipal courts of New Jersey.
If the complaint charges a 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th degree offense, it is handled by the County Prosecutor where the offense is alleged to have occurred.
The lawyers at The Bianchi Law Group, LLC have as prosecutors themselves handled thousands of complaints that have come through our office at this stage. At the prosecutors’ offices in New Jersey, there are units that review these crimes and determine if they should be presented to a Grand Jury and handled in superior court, or if they should be downgraded to a disorderly offense and handled in the municipal court. Grand Juries can also dismiss the charges, as well.
A Brief Overview of the Grand Jury Process
It should be noted that it is at this stage that we see some defense attorneys make a critical mistake. While this decision by prosecutors is being made, it is essential to contact the prosecutor handling the matter and start the defense of the client immediately to lessen the impact of the charge.
In the event the prosecutors feel that the crime is serious enough to stay a crime, and therefore to be handled in superior court, it is scheduled to be “presented” to a Grand Jury. In New Jersey all crimes alleged must be presented to a grand jury in order for the defendant to be formally charged and face the consequences of the crime alleged.
The Grand Jury is comprised of 24 citizens of the county. Although controlled by the court, it is a process where only prosecutors present evidence of a crime. There are instances that the defendant can ask to testify, but this is rarely done.
The partners at The Bianchi Law Group have in total presented many cases to Grand Juries throughout the years. We know the process well.
It is crucial to know that under New Jersey law, the prosecutors must present “exculpatory” evidence that they are aware of. This means evidence that tends to negate guilt and point to the innocence of a defendant. This is also why defense lawyers should quickly present such evidence to prosecutors in an attempt to resolve the case before presentation to the Grand Jury, or to ensure that the Grand Jury knows such evidence exists in the hopes they will not indict the defendant for the crime.
Now, it is important to remember that a Grand Jury proceeding is not like a trial. It is one-sided all the way. Prosecutors make the calls on what witnesses are called to testify, and importantly, the rules of evidence do not apply at this stage of a criminal proceeding. Hence, hearsay is allowed. Often, even in a complex case, only 1 or 2 witnesses testify and typically they are law enforcement officers.
These officers can read into the record victim statements and other evidence that would not be permissible to be admitted that way at a jury trial of the charges. Hence, it is often said that the Grand Jury is the “prosecutors’ playground,” meaning it is not hard for them to secure an indictment.
To be sure, at a trial of the indicted defendant the rules of evidence apply, the defendant is allowed to cross-examine witnesses the government brings to the stand, and the defense has the right to present its own case, if they choose to do so. Hence, the jury trial of an indicted person is a far more rigorous process for prosecutors compared to the Grand Jury process.
In the end, the Grand Jury decides by a majority vote if the person will be indicted, and hence move the case to a judge and courtroom for resolution. They also have the ability to dismiss the charge(s), or “remand” the charges back to the municipal court as disorderly and petty disorderly offenses.
Tactically, there is some lag time between a criminal charge being filed and the presentation and indictment of a Grand Jury. It is at this crucial time period that The Bianchi Law Group, LLC attorneys begin our defense investigation, strategy for defending the claims, and reaching out to prosecutors to position our clients in the best manner possible given the dynamics of each individual case and client.
If you, or someone you know, should ever need assistance with a criminal or municipal court matter, the attorneys at The Bianchi Law Group, LLC are always available to help.
Focus on Criminal Defense and Domestic Violence
At the Bianchi Law Group, our firm primarily focuses on cases related to Criminal Defense, Municipal Court Matters, and Domestic Violence. Both partners Robert Bianchi and David Bruno are former prosecutors who prosecuted a wide range of cases including criminal defense, domestic violence, and municipal hearings. The Bianchi Law Group is equipped with experienced Criminal Defense attorneys in New Jersey to help individuals looking for a New Jersey lawyer to help navigate the new complicated regulations while providing the best possible representation and legal outcome for our clients.
Former Prosecutors and Trusted by the Media
The Bianchi Law Group partners Robert Bianchi and David Bruno are former prosecutors who have handled the investigations and prosecutions of crimes in New Jersey and are certified along with only 250 other attorneys as certified criminal trial attorneys by the New Jersey Supreme Court. Robert Bianchi and David Bruno have extensive experience related to Criminal Defense cases in New Jersey. Robert Bianchi and David Bruno regularly appear as national legal analysts to comment and debate all most major news networks such as: Fox News, CNN, HLN, MSNBC, Fox Business among others.
The Bianchi Law Group focuses on practice areas related to Domestic Violence, Criminal Defense, and Municipal Court matters. Contact us at 862-210-8570 to discuss potential legal implications of the new regulations in New Jersey or any other legal issues you have.