Pre-Indictment Conferences in Burlington County NJ
January 28, 2022
After an arrest in Burlington County or elsewhere in New Jersey, you can expect to have several court hearings to attend. Depending on the complexity of your case, the court’s calendar, and other factors, you may have to participate in many hearings after the fact. One of the first hearings after your arrest and pretrial release from jail may be a pre-indictment conference hearing.
What Stage of a Felony Criminal Case is the Pre-Indictment Conference?
A pre-indictment conference allows the prosecution, judge, defendant, and defense attorney to set the course for the early phase in the life of a criminal prosecution, the indictment phase. New Jersey law requires an indictment by a grand jury for crimes more serious than disorderly persons offenses. The grand jury determines whether the state has enough evidence to support the crimes alleged against a defendant in the criminal complaint.
Once a grand jury indicts a defendant, the criminal action proceeds toward trial, where a jury decides guilt or innocence. If the grand jury does not indict the defendant, the prosecutor can dismiss the case or reduce the charges to disorderly persons offenses and send the case to municipal court. Thus, an indictment is a critical turning point in a criminal action. For judicial economy and constitutional fairness to the person accused of an indictable crime, the pre-indictment conference is an opportunity to resolve the case in part or whole.
What is the Prosecutor’s Role in the Pre-Indictment Conference?
The prosecutor has a good idea about the evidence supporting the criminal charges by pre-indictment conference time. The administrative arm of the prosecutor’s office for intake and screening cases has already done its job by that time. That means they compiled the police reports, witness statements, physical evidence, victim report, photos, video, or other evidence linked to the alleged crimes to determine if the prosecutor should pursue a conviction.
For the purposes of saving time and judicial resources, a prosecutor typically offers the defendant a plea deal and some of the discovery, such as police reports or other evidence. The deal may entice a defendant to plead guilty to some or all the charges in exchange for fewer or reduced charges with less prison time and lower fines.
Should You Consider Taking a Plea Offer at the Pre-Indictment Hearing?
The decision to take a plea is complex. Considerations include the defendant’s criminal history, the current charges, the evidence, and the defendant’s livelihood and family life, to name a few. Thus, each circumstance is unique to the specific defendant whether they should take a plea offer.
Although plea negotiations may continue after the pre-indictment hearing, the offer in court at this time is usually the first. And the more serious the charges, the sufficiency of the state’s evidence, and the likelihood of conviction, the more reason to accept a plea deal sooner rather than later. The more time goes by, the more work goes into preparing for trial, and perhaps the deal gets worse further down the line. Importantly, an experienced criminal defense attorney can negotiate for a better plea agreement that works in your interests. By negotiating with the prosecutor on your behalf, a good lawyer can often reach a better resolution, thus allowing you to avoid the risk of a conviction and uncertain sentencing outcome at the higher extent of the penalties range for your particular charges.
Potential Decisions You can Make at a PIC Hearing
Given that the prosecutor will only give you a partial illustration of the evidence at this point in the case, you must decide to accept or reject the offer without full knowledge. Eventually, the prosecutor turns over all its discovery but not usually at the pre-indictment conference. As a result, you have several options. You can accept the offer, reject the offer and move forward to the indictment stage, or have your attorney continue negotiations for a better deal. Another option may be to apply for the Pretrial Intervention (PTI) program that allows you to skip the hearings, trial, and possible conviction in lieu of this supervised probationary program for those with clear criminal histories charged with eligible indictable crimes in Superior Court.
If ineligible for PTI or another diversion like Drug Court, you must make an informed decision regarding the offer, knowing the risks and pitfalls. The most effective use of a pre-indictment conference lies in showing up prepared. By hiring a skillful criminal defense attorney, you can narrow the unknown factors, which can help you decide what to do with the state’s offer. To illustrate, your attorney can investigate the allegations and evidence against you, finding counter-evidence or flawed evidence to challenge the prosecution’s case. Being able to discuss potential challenges may cast doubt on the prosecutor’s stance.
Prosecutors face challenges that weaken their cases, such as a victim who does not want to cooperate, witnesses who turn out to be less-than credible, and evidence tainted by police mistakes during the investigation or chain of custody failures. Perhaps your most powerful defense strategy is attacking the propriety of the evidence to bar the prosecutor from using it against you. Let’s say the police found a gun in your car after conducting an illegal search. Your attorney can then file a motion to suppress evidence of the firearm based on constitutional grounds. If successful, the prosecutor may not introduce the gun to the jury as evidence of a crime. And if the weapon is critical to proving even one of the elements of a crime the state alleges you committed, this is a required aspect of what is necessary to convict you.
Knowing you have a solid defense against the state may sway your decision to hold out for a better offer, enroll in PTI to keep a clear criminal background, or go to trial and get the charges dismissed.
Talk to an Experienced Lawyer for Your Pre-Indictment Conference in Mount Holly, NJ
The importance of having excellent representation throughout the criminal stages, from arrest to pre-indictment conference and beyond, cannot be overstressed. You should have a criminal lawyer with extensive knowledge of the law and evidentiary issues handling your case and your defense as soon as possible. Get help early on to maximize your options and strengthen your position at the outset if you have an upcoming Pre-Indictment Conference in Burlington County, New Jersey. Experienced criminal defense attorney and former Deputy Attorney General William C. Fay knows how to successfully defend your case from start to finish. To discuss your case in a free consultation, call 609-850-8284 or send a message for additional legal counsel.