The final level of pre-indictment case review and screening occurs immediately prior to grand jury presentation. In 1990, the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office instituted a separate Grand Jury Unit to concentrate on this task, and to directly present cases to the Grand Jury of Essex County. Under the present vertical prosecution system implemented between 2006 and 2008, Assistant Prosecutors from the Adult Vertical Trial Section and specialized investigation units (e.g. Arson, Megan’s Law) present most cases before the Grand Jury. They remain assigned to their True Bill cases, from initial pleading and bail setting through resolution. However, a small Grand Jury Section remains to support the Trial Section and specialized units, especially regarding the more difficult cases.
It is the duty of the Grand Jury to hear the evidence against a person accused of committing a crime (as opposed to a disorderly persons offense, which does not require Grand Jury review). The Grand Jury must then decide if there is sufficient evidence to formally charge, or “indict”, the accused. After listening to witnesses, viewing physical evidence, if any, and discussing the case, the Grand Jury can vote:
• a True Bill, which formally charges the accused,
• a No Bill, which dismisses the charges, or
• a No Bill with Remand, which refers the case back to the municipal court on lesser charges
The Grand Jury is an independent body consisting of 23 members of the community, with 12 affirmative votes needed in order to return an indictment. The proceedings are private, but a transcript is made for use by the court, the Prosecutor’s Office and the defendant. The defendant may or may not testify before the Grand Jury.
Until 1999, Grand Jurors in Essex County sat for five weeks, three days per week. Their hours of service were from approximately 9:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. Approximately, fifteen cases per day were scheduled. Now, grand jurors sit one day per week for fifteen weeks. They now hear approximately twenty-five to thirty cases per day during the hours from 9:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. In order to facilitate case scheduling under the new system, while respecting the wishes of most Grand Jurors not to be held past the 4 p.m. closing time (given domestic and child care responsibilities), the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office has developed a “weighting” system. This permits personnel from the Prosecutor’s Office staff to designate an appropriate number of cases to be heard, given available time.
In 2014, the Grand Jury disposed of 3,524 cases. Of them, True Bills were returned in 2,983 cases, while 51 cases were referred to Municipal Court. The remaining cases were either No Billed, withdrawn, or pleaded out.