Jersey burglary case leads to new prosecutorial limits

| Mar 12, 2020 | Criminal Defense |

An 8-year-old Bergen County case has made it harder for prosecutors to return rejected indictments to a grand jury for retrial. Previously, a case could be presented to a grand jury for indictment an unlimited number of times if new evidence was presented.

Eight years ago, in Upper Saddle River, a 39-year-old man and his father were pulled over for suspicious driving. Upon inspection of the vehicle, officers discovered multiple brand new burglar tools, a hand written list of addresses for homes located in the Upper Saddle River and Mendham areas, and a tennis ball sized rock in the man’s pocket. Both the driver and passenger were dressed in black from head to toe, and each were in possession of gloves, black masks, and black goggles. Both parties were taken into custody and charged with attempted burglary.

The case was first presented before a grand jury in February 2013, where the jury did not believe there was enough evidence for indictment. The case was presented before the grand jury a second time one month later. Those jurors did choose to indict the men. However, a trial judge dismissed the indictments. His reasoning was that the state failed to meet the “multiple presentation rule” by failing to produce any new evidence. The case was again brought before a third grand jury in April 2013. This time, the state presented testimony from a burglary expert regarding the significance of the items found in the vehicle. An indictment was handed down, and both men were sentenced on attempted burglary charges.

This case brought to light the issue of retry on rejected indictments in the state of New Jersey. Representing the men, the American Civil Liberties Union asked for ruling by higher court. On Wednesday, March 4, 2020, the state Supreme Court ruled that prosecutors will now be required to obtain special permission from a judge if they wish to bring case back before a grand jury for a third time. This decision was reached unanimously by all seven justices. Three considerations must now be made prior to a third trial: whether there is new or additional evidence to present, the strength of the evidence and the conduct of the prosecution.