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(Predrag Novakovic)

Hey, fellow defense attorneys! Here’s a quick question. Have you ever walked into a municipal prosecutor’s office and found yourself surrounded by a dozen or more police officers? Do you recall how you felt? If you were intimidated or felt that any plea negotiations would be futile, you’re not alone. Throughout every county in New Jersey, there are municipalities where the prosecutor allows every police officer summoned to court on that day to hang around and sit in on plea negotiations.

The practice of allowing so many officers to attend plea negotiations creates an appearance of police-dominated justice and has a chilling effect on good-faith plea negotiations. If you, as a professional defense attorney, feel uncomfortable, how do you think apro se litigant feels? Inevitably, pro se litigants walk in to a room full of police officers and feel that the system is stacked against them. The New Jersey Supreme Court has written time and time again that municipal court is the only contact with the judiciary that most New Jersey residents will ever have. Given this fact, the need for prosecutors to present a fair and unthreatening environment becomes mission critical. People in a free society must feel at liberty to express their feelings to the prosecutor during plea discussions, especially if those feelings involve complaints or a misunderstanding about the police and their practices. A crowd of police officers in the prosecutor’s office, who perform no function other than hanging out and waiting around, tends to stifle this type of communication.

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