Making the Decision to Waive an Indictment in Your Criminal Case
There are a number of important considerations to take into account before deciding to proceed with a waiver of an indictment in your criminal case in New Jersey.
When you face fourth, third, second, or first degree criminal charges in New Jersey, you have the right to an indictment by a grand jury. That means the prosecutor overseeing the case assembles a panel of community members to review the evidence against you. When the grand jury decides there is enough evidence to support the state’s charges, an indictment follows. Nevertheless, you can waive or give up your right to a grand jury indictment. You might want to do that when you have an agreement with the prosecutor that is a safer bet than an indictment and resulting trial. For instance, when you know the state has a strong case against you, your attorney may suggest that you enter a plea agreement and waive an indictment, rather than risk a harsher sentence after a trial.
What are the Disadvantages of Waiving an Indictment in NJ?
Waiving an indictment is a decision that you make in consultation with your attorney, who can advise you about indictments, your case’s strengths and weaknesses, and the risks and benefits of going to trial versus entering a plea agreement. Your lawyer will inform you that a grand jury can return a no-bill, which means the evidence is insufficient to justify charges against you. A no-bill means your case may be dismissed or downgraded to a lesser offense with a lighter sentence. In other words, you may face a disorderly persons offense in municipal court, where there is no grand jury. Only indictable crimes in Superior Court require a grand jury indictment. So, waiving an indictment eliminates the possibility of a dismissal before your case even begins.
When the grand jury issues a true bill, which also states the charges, allegations supporting the charges, and legal violations, a defendant and their attorney have a detailed look at the prosecutor’s case. In that way, they can better prepare their defense, answering to the prosecutor’s charges and supporting evidence with reasons and counter-evidence. They can anticipate the prosecutor’s case and gather evidence to challenge the evidence with witnesses and documentary evidence to convince a jury of the defendant’s innocence. Without the grand jury indictment, the defendant cannot verify the strength or weakness of the case against them. However, the advantages of a plea bargain and waived indictment outweigh those of an indictment in some instances.
What are the Advantages of Choosing to Waive an Indictment for Criminal Charges?
You may take a plea when the prosecutor on your case offers you to plead guilty to fewer or lesser charges, perhaps a fourth degree crime rather than a third degree crime. It may be better to agree to 18 months in prison or less, rather than three to five years or more, especially when the prosecutor intends to file multiple charges against you. Agreeing to the prosecutor’s plea offer guarantees your case outcome. It saves you the time of attending several hearings and a trial with an unknown outcome potentially far worse than the offer.
When Someone Waives their Right to an Indictment, What Happens?
When you accept the state’s offer, you must first sign an indictment waiver. Otherwise, the court will not accept your plea. N.J. Court Rule 3:7-2 requires the state to prosecute by indictment unless the defendant waives that right in writing. A defendant must sign a waiver and submit on an accusation before the just approves the plea bargain and accepts a guilty plea. Submitting on an accusation is agreeing to the state’s charges and not contesting them.
After signing the waiver, you and your attorney appear before the judge, who wants to be sure you understand what you are signing and the rights you give up with the waiver, namely, the grand jury issuing a no bill. Thus, you must acknowledge to the judge in court that you understand you are giving up the right to a grand jury proceeding and are signing the accusation instead.
Once the judge is satisfied that you have read the accusation and are knowingly waiving your rights, the judge will review the accusation, making sure it is correct or amend it to correct errors. Rule 3:7-4 allows a judge to amend an accusation for errors or to include lesser offenses consistent with the crimes alleged. When all is right in the accusation and the judge reviews your signed waiver, they accept your plea.
Factors to Consider Before Proceeding with the Waiver Process in a Criminal Case
Waiving an indictment has its purpose and can be beneficial under the right circumstances. You should not decide to take that drastic step without sound legal advice from an experienced criminal defense attorney. You need the legal expertise and foresight to evaluate your case and the prosecution’s case against you. A criminal defense attorney at The Tormey Law Firm can advise you of affirmative defenses to the charges and possible strategies to exploit weaknesses in the state’s case. When the state has solid evidence against you, we can discuss and explain why proceeding by way of accusation and choosing to waive an indictment is the safest route to take in your case.
For example, when the evidence against you is relatively conclusive, such as camera footage that shows you committing a robbery or DNA evidence that links you to a murder, our attorneys may advise you to consider a plea bargain that we negotiate with the prosecutor for the best possible result. The state is interested in saving time and resources to avoid a lengthy prosecution, including a trial. As such, they may be willing to negotiate a lesser sentence or reduced charge in exchange for a guilty plea. However, when the prosecution’s case relies on circumstantial evidence, you may want to take your chances at trial or wait for a better deal.
Considering Waiving an Indictment in Your Criminal Case in NJ? Let us Help
Our criminal defense lawyers can assess and discuss the wisest options for you, ensuring that you are fully informed about all of the benefits and drawbacks before making your decision. If you are facing indictable criminal charges in New Jersey, contact us for a free consultation with a criminal defense attorney who can take you through the entirety of the criminal justice process, whether by indictment or proceeding with the indictment waiver process when that is the most advantageous way to resolve your criminal case. Contact us 24/7 at (201)-556-1570 for assistance with your criminal case and to talk to a lawyer who can explore the possibilities for your optimal defense.