Virtual Grand Juries (Part 2)

by | Jun 15, 2021 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The Court continued in relevant part: On May 14, 2020, the Court issued an Order authorizing a virtual grand jury pilot program to begin in Bergen and Mercer Counties. The Order instructed that “grand juries empaneled before March 16, 2020 and still within their term of service may reconvene in a virtual format.” It further directed that the standard grand jury charge would be supplemented by a special charge and an oath of secrecy adapted to the virtual format. The supplemental charge reminds the jurors of the gravity of their obligation and warns that, if they violate their oath of secrecy or any other rule governing the grand jury proceeding, they could be held in contempt and face “serious consequences,” including potential fines and jail time. The May 14 Order also advised that the Judiciary would “provide restricted-use devices (laptops or tablets) and related items” to any grand juror who is “able to participate in virtual proceedings but requires technological support” and would give training to the grand jurors “on the virtual courtroom process.”

In June 2020, the Court expanded the two-county grand jury pilot program to include virtual grand jury selections and authorized virtual State Grand Jury proceedings. On July 24, 2020, the Court took the virtual grand jury pilot program statewide. Inperson grand jury selection and sessions remain suspended. As of January 29, 2021, the Judiciary had provided over 150 tablets (with broadband internet capacity when necessary) to allow potential jurors to participate in virtual grand jury selections and jurors to participate in virtual grand jury sessions. Any grand juror without access to a computer or tablet is provided one by the Judiciary. Jurors serving on State Grand Juries are instructed to interrupt or wave at their screens if they have any technical problems, and Deputy Attorneys General and grand jury staff monitor grand jurors’ screens to assist with any problems. Judiciary staff, moreover, ensure that grand jurors comply with the secrecy requirements of virtual grand jury sessions. Before each session, a staff member checks in with the jurors, has them perform with their electronic devices a 360-degree scan of their environments to confirm the privacy of their locations, and reminds them to turn off their cell phones or other devices.

Experienced practitioners recognize that the unaddressed issue involving grand juries is that they rubber-stamp a prosecutor’s proposed indictment in the vast majority of cases before them. Most grand juries ceased to act as a competent screening mechanism a long time ago. This is due in large part to our appellate courts allowing cases to be presented through multiple hearsay and leading questions as opposed to requiring witnesses with personal knowledge to testify in their own words.