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Courts move to resume grand jury proceedings

By Nikita Biryukov, October 08 2020 3:21 pm

New Jersey’s courts are moving to resume virtual and in-person grand juries in each county after the COVID-19 crisis halted such proceeding for months.

“The number of unindicted detained defendants will continue to grow unless grand juries are established in all counties and enabled to perform their critical function effectively, efficiently, and consistent with public health requirements,” New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote in the order.

More than 2,700 defendants are awaiting grand jury proceedings in county jails, including almost 600 who have been detained since before March 16, when the courts suspended many of their trial proceedings.

The grand juries must be empaneled by Dec. 1. The order also ends excludable time for defendants on a tiered basis, with the first extension sunsetting on Jan. 15, 2021.

Though Mercer and Bergen Counties began holding virtual grand juries in June, those proceedings have remained paused in most parts of the state.

They’ve since resumed, and all counties have started summoning jurors for selection, the court said.

The order requires all counties to provide technology and training needed to conduct grand juries digitally. In-person grand juries must follow social distancing and other public health guidelines, and county prosecutors can request grand jury sessions be conducted outdoors if no suitable indoor facilities are available.

Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Hunterdon, Morris, Passaic, Salem, Sussex and Warren counties are expected to be allowed to seek non-court locations for its grand jury panels.

The court’s order also creates a new policy allowing defendants who have been detained but not indicted to request a hearing at which prosecutors must produce at least one witness and establish probable cause supporting the charges against said defendant.

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