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In re Presentment Made to Superior Court of New Jersey

Decided: July 10, 1951.

IN THE MATTER OF THE PRESENTMENT MADE TO THE SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY, HUDSON COUNTY, BY THE HUDSON COUNTY GRAND JURY ON APRIL 13, 1951


Proctor, J.s.c.

Proctor

This is a motion by Fred M. De Sapio, Michael M. Borelli and Stephen Mongiello, who were commissioners in the City of Hoboken, asking for an order expunging from the files of this court the report of the grand jury of Hudson County, dated April 13, 1951, or, in the alternative, certain parts of the aforesaid report.

It appears that on September 2, 1947, the Board of Commissioners of the City of Hoboken adopted a resolution whereby one Shea was to probe "the affairs and conditions of the Police Department, to investigate the acts of the Police Department regarding the suppression or protecting of gambling, to investigate the efficiency of the Police Department, * * *." Upon the completion of such investigation Shea made a report which was not made public although each commissioner received a copy of it.

In the spring of 1951, at a hearing before the United States Senate Crime Investigating Committee, a part of the Shea report which indicated there had been organized gambling in the City of Hoboken was made public; whereupon the county prosecutor brought the matter to the attention of the Hudson County grand jury for investigation. While the

grand jury was pursuing its investigation, the entire Shea report was publicized and received wide circulation.

On April 13, 1951, the grand jury, having exhaustively inquired into matters so referred to them, returned a presentment or report to this court in which they stated: "There was absolutely no evidence before us of the commission of any offense against the criminal laws of this state for which indictments could be returned at this time." The report is voluminous and consists largely of a detailed account of the grand jury's investigation. While it exonerates certain persons mentioned in the Shea report of any improper conduct, it also specifically charges that the petitioners herein entered into a "plot or scheme" to oust another commissioner from the Department of Public Safety.

At the conclusion of the oral argument the court refused to expunge the report in its entirety, but reserved decision as to the deletion of that part which charged that petitioners herein entered into the above mentioned "plot or scheme."

In New Jersey, the grand jury is a creature of the common law and our Constitution provides that it may proceed by presentment or indictment. N.J. Const. 1947, Article I, par. 8. There are no statutes in this State respecting the authority and power of a grand jury which are here pertinent. The distinction between the two forms of procedure was explained by Judge (now Justice) Ackerson in O'Regan v. Schermerhorn , 25 N.J. Misc. 1 (Sup. Ct., Cir. Ct. 1946). Technically, a presentment lacks the formality of an indictment. It demonstrates the intent of the grand jury to indict and authorizes the prosecuting attorney to frame an indictment upon which the accused may be brought to trial.

Sometimes grand juries make written reports to the court. These reports are not intended to be followed by indictments and hence are not true common law presentments. However, the custom has long existed in this State for grand juries to consider methods of administration of municipal governments and point out where there are defects or where improvements may be made. This is done in a report

commonly known as a presentment. Much can be said in favor of this custom. Such reports commenting on or condemning general conditions which the grand jury finds to exist can do no harm but may be followed by beneficial results to the community, for the reason that recommendations of a grand jury, an arm of the court, carry great weight in the public mind. Conceding that criticism of public officials raises questions of public interest just as truly as a report concerning conditions, nevertheless, it is contrary to fair play and sound public policy when in such a report the grand jury, without intending it to be the basis for an indictment, condemns the acts and impugns the motives of individuals, whether they be public officers or private citizens. In the public mind such a report or presentment is the equivalent of a judicial finding, yet it lacks a fundamental principle in our system of justice -- the right to defend one's self. In discussing presentments, Chief Justice Gummere in his charge to the grand jury of Essex County in 1907 (30 N.J.L.J. 306), said:

"In dealing with this matter, however, you might bear in mind that a presentment is sometimes a cruel thing. When a man is indicted his character is attainted because the general public believes that he would not be indicted if he had not violated the law. If he is innocent, however, he has the opportunity to demonstrate it. Where a presentment besmirches the reputation of a man he has not the opportunity to justify himself. He goes through life with a stigma, and there are no ...


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