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State v. Boykin

New Jersey Superior Court, Law Division

Decided: February 19, 1971.


Horn, A.j.s.c.


[113 NJSuper Page 595]

Defendants were indicted for possession of lottery paraphernalia. They move to compel the State to have a hearing as to probable cause as provided by R. 3:4-2 and 3:4-3 or, in the alternative, to dismiss the indictment.

Defendants' motions must be denied.

R. 3:4-2 provides in part that, "If the complaint charges the defendant with an indictable offense, the court shall inform him of his right to have a hearing as to probable cause and of his right to indictment by the grand jury." R. 3:4-3 provides in part that,

As the above rules indicate, a hearing as to probable cause is contemplated, but may be superseded by the return of an indictment. Once the grand jury has acted, the indictment establishes the existence of probable cause and eliminates the need for a hearing.

[113 NJSuper Page 596]

The law in New Jersey is clear that a preliminary hearing to establish probable cause is not an essential part of the criminal procedure. In State v. Spindel , 24 N.J. 395 (1957), the court said, "At common law, there is no right to a preliminary hearing on a complaint charging a criminal offense." It has been pointed out that there is no statute in this jurisdiction requiring a preliminary hearing; the matter is controlled by court rule and is thus a matter of procedure. State v. War , 38 N.J. Super. 201 (Cty. Ct. 1955).

Our Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the failure to conduct a preliminary hearing as to probable cause will not invalidate an indictment or conviction. State v. Smith , 32 N.J. 501 (1960); State v. Dennis , 43 N.J. 418 (1964); State v. Jackson , 43 N.J. 148 (1964); State v. Ordog , 45 N.J. 347 (1965). See also State v. Wade , 89 N.J. Super. 139 (App. Div. 1965). Although our rules provide for a preliminary hearing and a defendant should ordinarily be given one, it is well settled that the right is not so vital that the failure to afford it will invalidate an indictment or conviction. A grand jury has the right and power to find an indictment before, as well as pending, a preliminary examination. Even if the municipal magistrate finds lack of probable cause at the preliminary hearing and dismisses the complaint, defendant may still be indicted and convicted for the same offense. State v. Kirkland , 82 N.J. Super. 409 (App. Div. 1964).

The United States Supreme Court has never held that there is a constitutional right to a preliminary hearing. Although the case did not deal directly with the issue, there is language in Jaben v. United States , 381 U.S. 214, 85 S. Ct. 1365, 14 L. Ed. 2d 345 (1965), reh. den. 382 U.S. 873, 86 S. Ct. 19, 15 L. Ed. 2d 114 (1965), which indicates that an indictment supersedes the complaint procedure and eliminates the need for a preliminary hearing. The court said:

[113 NJSuper Page 597]

Furthermore, we think that the Government must proceed through the further steps of the complaint procedure by affording the defendant a preliminary hearing as required by Rule 5, unless before the preliminary hearing is held, the grand jury supersedes the complaint procedure by returning an indictment. [at 220, 85 S. Ct. at 1369]

The Circuit Courts of Appeal have held that there is no necessity for a preliminary hearing after the grand jury has returned an indictment. Crump v. Anderson , 122 U.S. App. D.C. 173, 352 F.2d 649 (D.C. Cir. 1965); United States v. Chase , 372 F.2d 453 (4th Cir. 1967), cert. den. 387 U.S. 907, 87 S. Ct. 1688, 18 L. Ed. 2d 826 (1967); Bayless v. United States , 381 F.2d 67 (9th Cir. 1967).

Although recent cases from the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia have held that a defendant is entitled to a preliminary hearing under the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure , and that a subsequent indictment does not excuse the failure to have one, this was decided under the rules and not on constitutional grounds. Ross v. Sirica , 127 U.S. App. D.C. 10, 380 F.2d 557 (D.C. Cir. 1967). Other circuits have not followed Ross. Sciortino v. Zampano , 385 F.2d 132 (2 Cir. 1967), cert. den. 390 U.S. 906, 88 S. Ct. 820, 19 L. Ed. 2d 872 (1968).

The Third Circuit also takes the position that a preliminary hearing is not essential. In United States v. Conway , 415 F.2d 158 (3 Cir. 1969), it was held that:

It should be observed that part of the rationale for the Ross decision was to afford the defendant an opportunity for discovery. The New Jersey rules already provide for discovery by a defendant of the State's case. R. 3:13-3.

Finally, there is nothing in Coleman v. Alabama , 399 U.S. 1, 90 S. Ct. 1999, 26 L. Ed. 2d 387 (1970), which

[113 NJSuper Page 598]

alters the existing law on this point. Coleman held that if there is a preliminary hearing, defendant is entitled to counsel. Implicit in the court's discussion of the case was the fact that a state may not have a preliminary hearing at all but can go directly to the grand jury.


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