Written by attorney Jay Arnesen

How To Dismiss a Grand Jury Indictment Based on an Exculpatory Statement

The best criminal defense attorneys never leave any stones unturned when advocating for their clients. An often overlooked, but extremely important part of every criminal case is the grand jury indictment. With the help of a good private investigator, you will find witnesses who know things about your case which clearly negate the guilt of your client. When brought to light prior to the indictment and turned over to the State through reciprocal discovery, the State has a duty to present the exculpatory statements to the grand jury when seeking the indictment. Under New Jersey law, if the State fails to do this, the indictment must be dismissed.

The following is the content concerning the caselaw which should be incorporated into your brief to the Court. The brief should be labeled as a Motion to Dismiss the Grand Jury Indictment. Always give the court the caselaw first so it understands the law before making your argument.

Caselaw: A "grand jury's 'mission is to clear the innocent, no less than to bring to trial those who may be guilty.'" State v. Hogan, 144 N.J. 216, 228 (1996) (quoting State v. Hart, 139 N.J.Super. 565, 568 (App. Div. 1976); United States v. Dionisio, 410 U.S. 1, 16-17 (1973). In order to execute that mission, "the grand jury cannot be denied access to evidence that is credible, material, and so clearly exculpatory as to induce a rational grand juror to conclude that the State has not made out a prima facie case against the accused." Id. at 236. As a result, the Supreme Court has imposed a limited duty on prosecutors to disclose evidence to the grand jury evidence which "satisfies two requirements: it must directly negate guilt and must also be clearly exculpatory." Id. at 237 (citing State v. Smith, 269 N.J.Super. 86 (App. Div. 1993), cert. denied, 137 N.J. 164 (1994)). In order to qualify as evidence that directly negates the guilt of the accused, it must "squarely refute an element of the crime in question." Ibid. (emphasis in original). To determine whether evidence is clearly exculpatory, a court must evaluate the quality and reliability of the evidence within "the context of the nature and source of the evidence, and the strength of the State's case." Ibid.

The Hogan Court remarked that New Jersey courts have not been reluctant to scrutinize grand jury proceedings where the decision-making process was fundamentally unfair. supra, 144 N.J. at 229. We have demonstrated a greater willingness to review grand jury proceedings where the alleged deficiency in the proceedings affects the grand jurors' ability to make an informed decision whether to indict. State v. Murphy, 110 N.J. 20, 35 (1988). In State v. Gaughran, the Court noted there was no issue as to the sufficiency of the evidence before the grand jury, but rather whether the failure to present exculpatory evidence "stripped the Grand Jury of its function to protect the innocent from unfounded prosecution." 260 N.J.Super. 283, 287; 615 A.2d 1293 (1992).

Next, apply the facts of your case to the caselaw and make a winning argument. Remember that judges and law clerks don't need any additional fluff in your briefs; especially sentence after sentence citing caselaw. Judges want the facts of your case applied to the applicable caselaw. The best briefs are always concise and straight forward. Don't waste time with making your brief long winded. Additionally, don't write briefs that are full of law but short on facts. Judges know the law. You need to apply the facts of your case to the law and make your argument stick.

Good luck.

Additional resources provided by the author

State v. Hogan, 144 N.J. 216 (1996)

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