The Legal Division of the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office is comprised, under County Prosecutor Jeffrey H. Sutherland, of First Assistant Prosecutor Robert W. Johnson who oversees a Litigation Section and an Investigation/Special Litigation Section. Chief Assistant Prosecutors Michelle DeWeese and Saverio Carroccia lead the Litigation Section with two Trial Teams composed of eight Assistant Prosecutors and a Grand Jury Unit with two Assistant Prosecutors assigned on a full-time basis and additional Assistant Prosecutors assigned as required. Many of these attorneys have additional responsibilities consisting of First Appearances and Detention Hearings, under New Jersey’s 2017’s newly adopted Criminal Justice Reform. These attorneys are responsible for the prosecution of indictable matters not only originating in the Prosecutor’s Office but also received from the sixteen municipalities in Cape May County; and providing legal advice to eleven municipal police departments, the State Police and the Delaware River and Bay Authority.Assistant Prosecutors have two primary functions. First, the Assistant Prosecutors prosecute criminal complaints filed through the Prosecutor’s Office by screening complaints, grand jury presentations, and prosecuting indictments through guilty plea or trial. Secondly, the Assistant Prosecutors provide legal advice, counsel and support to the Cape May County law enforcement community during the course of investigations by obtaining court orders, wiretaps and search warrants. In addition, the Assistant Prosecutors provide legal training for academy recruits, in-service officers and corrections officers at the County Police Academy.
Five Assistant Prosecutors are assigned to the Investigations/Special Litigation Unit and report directly to the First Assistant Prosecutor. Assignments in this Unit are to the Gangs, Guns and Narcotics Task Force, Juvenile Prosecutions, Domestic Violence Prosecutions, Recovery Court, Appellate and Civil Forfeiture functions, and the Animal Cruelty Task Force.
The Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office utilizes two methods of managing the prosecution of cases; vertical prosecution and horizontal prosecution. In vertical prosecutions, cases that are assigned to a specific Assistant Prosecutor from inception, through Grand Jury preparation to trial, is utilized in high profile and/or specialized cases such as homicides, cold cases, child abuse, sexual assault, financial crimes, and narcotics. The First Assistant Prosecutor reviews the initial case and assigns it based upon his review. In horizontal prosecution cases, which are the majority of cases received by the office, the First Assistant Prosecutor initially reviews the cases, assigns them to one of two trial teams and forwards them to the Pre-Indictment Unit for review, preparation and either presentation to the Grand Jury, downgrade to Municipal Court or administrative dismissal. If a case is true billed (indicted), the First Assistant Prosecutor then assigns the cases to an attorney whose responsibility is to handle the case through disposition. This includes handling the arraignment/status conference, pretrial conference, motions, and trial. The Appellate Section generally handles post-conviction and appellate matters.
A. LITIGATION DIVISION – This Division oversees eight (8) sections.
1. PRE-INDICTMENT UNIT – In 2017, the Pre-Indictment Unit was in compliance with the Attorney General’s Directive 2016-6, as a result of P.L. 2014, or otherwise known as Criminal Justice Reform. The Directive facilitated the transition from a resource based bail system to the new risk based system. To meet the requirements, Unit members facilitated the collection of reports, statements, videos and other evidentiary materials needed to be presented to the Court by Assistant Prosecutors assigned to the Unit. Assistant Prosecutors answer calls on a 24-hour/7 days per week basis for immediate screening and charging approvals. Assistant Prosecutors then present the collected evidentiary materials to the Court to seek detention of a Defendant until such time as his or her case is disposed (via plea, trial or dismissal). The new risk based system has brought about significant demands on the Unit and the Office, resulting in a considerable increase in work load. – As a result, in 2017, (165) detention motions were granted, (245) detention motions were denied, and (55) detention motions were withdrawn or dismissed.
2. TRIAL TEAM -A- — Trial Team -A- is made up of four(4) Assistant Prosecutors who present before the Honorable Michael Donahue.
3. TRIAL TEAM -B- — Trial Team -B- is made up of four(4) Assistant Prosecutors who present before the Honorable Sarah Beth Johnson.
4. SPECIAL LITIGATION UNIT – The Special Litigation Unit oversees the following prosecution sections.
APPELLATE SECTION – In 2017, the Assistant Prosecutor assigned to this section handled (31) petitions for post-conviction relief, (12) KROL hearings (confinement of persons acquitted by reason of insanity), (4) appeals to the Superior Court of New Jersey- Appellate Division, the New Jersey Supreme Court and 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, (1) federal petition for habeas corpus and (16) municipal Court appeals.
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SECTION – The Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office handled 159 cases involving victims of domestic violence in 2017. These cases range from aggravated assault and sexual assault to terroristic threats and contempt (violations of Restraining Orders). Currently, the Section is staffed by two experienced attorneys. One Assistant Prosecutor is assigned to handle all indictable level crimes committed against victims of domestic violence (aggravated assaults, sexual assaults, terroristic threats, etc.) from their inception through disposition. This Assistant Prosecutor provides assistance in connection with the cases that arise in the Municipal Courts within the County. More specifically, she provides support and assistance to the Municipal Court prosecutors and to the Victim Witness Advocate assigned to the various Municipal Courts. This Assistant Prosecutor is also entrusted with the determination as to whether or not weapons seized in connection with matters of domestic violence should be returned to their owners at the conclusion of the cases or forfeited. The second Prosecutor assigned to the Section handles all cases involving Violations of Restraining Orders (contempt) that occur in Cape May County, including those committed by Defendants who may reside in other states.
Both Prosecutors are involved in the matters from the inception of the case in that they are often asked to not only provide legal advice to but also approve the charging decisions made by the officers investigating the matters. Thereafter, both Prosecutors are responsible for meeting with victims and attempting to ascertain what disposition would provide the most just result. Both Prosecutors often make sentencing recommendations designed to see that justice is done and that victims are kept safe. Those recommendations include but are not limited to: Incarceration in New Jersey State Prison; Non-Custodial Probation; and Compliance with Recommendations made by Drug and Alcohol and Mental Health Evaluators.
JUVENILEs SECTiON – The Juvenile Justice Unit is responsible for the screening, investigating and prosecuting of all crimes and offenses committed by individuals who are under the age of 18 at the time of the commission of the offense. These offenses can range from disorderly conduct to robbery, sexual assault, or homicide. A single Assistant Prosecutor is assigned to this section, along with an agent, victim witness advocate, and a clerical staff member. The agent is responsible for ensuring that all necessary discovery is compiled for each case so that it is ready for prosecution and provides support for trial preparation. The Assistant Prosecutor prosecutes the cases to completion and is responsible for making recommendations for disposition of cases, including transfer, deferral, plea, trial or waiver. In 2017, the Unit handled more than 385 cases. The majority of the charges handled were burglary, theft, assault, and cases involving the possession of weapons or controlled dangerous substances.
The Assistant Prosecutor represents the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office as a member of the County Council for the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI), a national program. The goal of JDAI is to improve the juvenile justice system and outcomes for youth. The Assistant Prosecutor also focuses on promoting accountability for the juvenile’s actions and protecting the community. The Assistant Prosecutor provides daily legal advice to the police regarding juvenile matters, including applications for fingerprinting and photographing juveniles, investigative detention applications, and search warrants. In addition, she is responsible for training law enforcement on the laws related to juvenile justice. Each municipal law enforcement agency within the county has a designated juvenile officer who works with the Juvenile Unit. The Juvenile Officer Association, comprised of the county juvenile officers and the school resource officers, has been created to work with the Juvenile Unit of the Prosecutor’s Office to provide support and communication for those involved in law enforcement within Cape May County specializing in the juvenile justice system.
STATION HOUSE ADJUSTMENT PROGRAM – The Prosecutor’s Office has placed an emphasis on ensuring that juvenile low level offenders are given an opportunity to receive services and avoid entry into the juvenile justice system. Working with the County of Cape May and various agencies within the county, the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office has been focusing on creating an enhanced Station House Adjustment program that will allow the low level offenders to attend a course on proper decision making, receive drug and alcohol treatment, and/or receive mental health treatment in lieu of formally charging the juvenile. The goal of the program is to reduce recidivism and ensure that these juveniles have an opportunity for rehabilitation without court involvement. The program is appropriate for juveniles that are truant, runaways, curfew violators, and those who commit minor offenses. In 2017, there were 217 Station House Adjustments completed in Cape May County, and actual decrease of 36% from the 337 in 2016.
RECOVERY COURT (Formerly ‘Drug Court’) – With a notable increases in the number of arrests in drug cases, and the percentage of those sentenced to serve time in state institutions, Drug Courts were created to generate significant cost savings by replacing costly per inmate annual incarceration costs, with less expensive treatment services. Drug courts substantially reduce drug use and recidivism. In Cape May and Atlantic Counties; on June 27, 2018, the Drug Court was officially changed to ‘Recovery Court’.
Prospective Recovery Court defendants come under the Court’s supervision after arrest. After acceptance into Recovery Court, participants begin a clinically-driven treatment program that generally lasts from 18 months to 5 years. Participants are required to attend treatment sessions, undergo random urinalysis, meet regularly with probation officers and appear frequently before the drug court judge. The Cape May County Superior Court’s Recovery Court encourages Personal accountability by the participant; Payment of child support and other financial obligations; Education and full-time employment; and Involvement with self-help and community organizations to support participant recovery after graduation from drug court. 2017 saw a 22% increase in participants, a total of 250 participants being accepted into the program from 196 in 2016. To meet the increases, the Cape May County Superior Court has added an extra Court day to hear the Recovery Court Program.