The Adult Trial Section represents the State in the criminal proceedings which follow the filing of an indictable criminal complaint and/or arrest of a defendant. Each workday, Assistant Prosecutors assigned to the Superior Court – Law Division, Criminal Part (Trial Section) perform a broad array of litigation functions that are critical to the operation of the criminal justice system. Central to this role is the preparation and prosecution of jury and non-jury trials. Assistant Prosecutors assigned to the Trial Section also represent the State in a variety of other court proceedings including bail hearings, arraignment/status conferences, Grand Jury presentations, pre-trial and post-trial motions, sentence hearings, hearings on violations of probation, appeals from the decisions of municipal courts, retraxit pleas of guilty to indictments, and accusations and petitions for post-conviction relief. Additionally, Assistant Prosecutors assigned to this sections are responsible for extradition waiver hearings, the arguing of interlocutory appeals before the Appellate Division of Superior Court during trial, the periodic review of the status of persons committed to State psychiatric institutions incident to criminal proceedings, and the determination of the geographic scope of extradition efforts to be undertaken in the event a defendant absconds.
Trial Assistant Prosecutors and Detectives assigned to the Trial Section work in teams, consisting of three Prosecutors and two Detectives for each of the 15 criminal trial courts in Essex County. The Trial Assistant Prosecutors work closely with their assigned Detectives, who interview witnesses, prepare reports, take statements, schedule witness interviews, visit crime scenes, take photographs, locate evidence and reports from municipal police departments, serve subpoenas, and take any other additional investigative steps as required.
Since 2004 the prosecution system for criminal cases has followed the “vertical” model. Previously, the bulk of criminal cases traveled though various specialized case-preparation and screening sections before reaching the Grand Jury and Trial sections. The vertical model, by contrast, combines these functions into a single prosecution unit (the Adult Trial Section) which handles its own cases through the arrest, pre-indictment, Grand Jury and trial stages. Each Assistant Prosecutor in the Section must handle the case from pre-indictment preparation, then present his or her own cases to the Grand Jury and remain primarily responsible for subsequent plea negotiations, trial presentation, and sentencing. When the same prosecutor and investigator continue with a case, the Program not only encourages efficiency, it also enhances accountability and permits a better response to victims and witnesses.
The Adult Trial Section continued to handle the largest and most serious caseload in the State. Essex County leads the State in the number of criminal filings and handles a higher-than-average proportion of first and second-degree offenses. All first and second-degree crimes of violence require mandatory periods of parole ineligibility, making disposition of these offenses more difficult.
In 2014, the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office successfully indicted or charged by accusations 4,410 defendants and resolved the cause of 4,350 defendants previously indicted or charged by accusation; 53% percent of those cases involved first or second degree charges.
In conjunction with the special crime squads, the Trial Section obtained 91 defendant dispositions by trial in 2014; the overall post-indictment/accusation conviction rate including pleas and trial was 80 percent.
The Trial Section continues its emphasis on mentorship and training for its Trial Assistant Prosecutors. The Unit coordinates with all elements of the investigation process, especially given the increasing levels of distrust and hesitancy to cooperate on the part of victims and witnesses stemming from intimidation and threats of violence from organized street crime elements. Increased and more effective use of forensic evidence is also a priority for the Trial Section, as to ensure that justice is achieved in Essex County.