Are Your Indictments Specific Enough to be Distinguished?

14-2-3514 State v. D.C., N.J. Super. App. Div. (per curiam) (14 pp.)

Submitted by New Jersey Sex Crime Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.

Indictments and subsequent verdict sheets have to be specific enough to differentiate the defendant’s conduct as to each separate count.  If the jury cannot differentiate the defendant’s conduct as to the separate counts because of an unclear indictment, the indictment will be dismissed as illustrated by a recent case.

In the case, the Defendant was indicted for 22 separate offenses involving sexual misconduct with a minor.  There were three separate occasions where these acts took place.  The jury found the defendant guilty of 3 out of the 22 counts, and dismissed the rest.  However, when the jury found the defendant guilty of those counts, it was ambiguous as to which of three occasions applied to each of the counts laid out in the indictment.  The indictment contained no specific information in this regard, and the verdict sheet nor the judge’s instructions to the jury specified which of the defendant’s act went with the specific counts.

Because the jury could not differentiate which of the defendant’s acts went with each separate indictment, and since the jury found the defendant guilty on some counts and not others, the Court had no choice but to dismiss the indictment.  Double jeopardy prevented retrying the case on the counts that were dismissed.  And because the indictment was not specific regarding the separate occasions, the case could not be retried on the guilty counts because the conduct could have been found to be linked to one of the dismissed counts.

On this rare occasion, the defendant’s indictments were thrown out due to this lack of specificity in the indictment.  If that lack of specificity is not cleared up by the verdict sheet or the judge’s instructions, the defendant is prejudiced by the ambiguity, and the case should be dismissed as happened here.

If you are facing multiple indictments be sure to seek out an experienced attorney to ensure that your rights are protected throughout the criminal justice process.

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