On January 30, 2019, Governor Murphy signed a new law into effect (S1036), which was originally introduced into our New Jersey Senate on January 16, 2018. This law requires the Attorney General’s Office to handle the investigation and prosecution of crimes involving the deaths of individuals by law enforcement officers while acting in their official capacity. Furthermore, the law requires that in the event an indictment is returned by a State grand jury against a police officer for a person’s death that occurred during an encounter with that officer acting in his/her official capacity or while the decedent was in custody, the judge who impaneled the grand jury shall designate a county of venue other than the county in which the indictment occurred, for the purpose of trial of the indictment. 

In December of 2018, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal testified against the proposed Bill before the Legislature. Attorney General Grewal believed that the Bill “may undermine public trust in law enforcement and will replace a system that already does everything that the sponsors seek to accomplish and more.” Attorney General Grewal warned that the new legislation would slow down police shooting inquiries in the hours immediately after a person’s death by requiring county officials to stay clear of the scene and wait for state investigators to arrive. In addition, New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Colligan called the Bill a “direct slap in the face to every law enforcement officer throughout the state.”

Bills requiring the Attorney General’s Office to complete the investigations into deadly shootings by law enforcement officials are not new.  Indeed, prior Bills were introduced in 2013 and 2016.  The 2013 Bill did not go beyond the committee, while the 2016 Bill was vetoed by Governor Chris Christie.  Governor Murphy noted in his signing statement that there were 14 deaths in 2018 that would have fallen under the new law had it been in place.

All county prosecutor offices and municipal police departments should be aware of the new law’s requirements and should ensure that their policies now comply with the law. Specifically, county and municipal officers and officials should be directed to maintain a shooting scene and wait for State employees to arrive when a suspect has passed away. Previously, whenever a municipality was involved in a police shooting incident, they were required to maintain the scene until the county prosecutor’s office took over the investigation. Now, municipalities are still required to maintain a scene, but must wait for State employees to arrive and overtake the investigation, while county employees are directed to stay clear of the scene.

For more information on this new law or other civil rights matters, please contact Michael Colacci at mcolacci@hoaglandlongo.com or (732) 545-4717.