The New Jersey Supreme Court is going to address a Constitutional challenge to the State’s virtual Grand Jury Program. A defense attorney’s group believes that the Court has overstepped their power in authorizing remote proceedings during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Grand Juries are empaneled for purposes of establishing an indictment which is a condition precedent to proceeding with a criminal charge in the State of New Jersey. The concern is that the remote process could be prejudicial to criminal defendants because of the technical requirements and challenges for virtual Grand Jury service. It is believed that this could potentially exclude minority, poor and elderly jurors, among others, and as a result, defendants could be stripped of their right to an indictment by a Grand Jury drawn from a fair cross-section of the community. In addition, there are concerns over the loss of Grand Jury secrecy. Normally, Grand Juries are empaneled in person, as a group, confidentially and where all of the evidence is presented to them with an opportunity to ask questions. If the indictment is returned and has been affected by any one of these issues, a defendant’s Constitutional rights have been compromised and that is something the Supreme Court will need to address and must preserve.