N.J.’s top court to weigh recommendations to reduce bias in jury selection

By: - May 2, 2022 6:37 am

A court-appointed committee recommended 25 ways New Jersey can make jury selection fairer. The public can comment until June 10. (Getty Images)

New Jersey courts would ask prospective jurors their race, ethnicity, and gender, allow people with certain criminal convictions to serve on juries, and pay jurors more, if the state Supreme Court adopts recommendations made last week to reduce bias in jury selection.

The Committee of the Judicial Conference on Jury Selection made 25 recommendations in a 63-page report advising how the state should expand jury pools and make jury selection fairer.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner established the committee after the state’s top court last July unanimously reversed the conviction in a murder case because they said prosecutors likely acted with “implicit or unconscious bias” in asking to keep a Black man off the jury.

The judge in that case excused the man from jury service after prosecutors challenged him because he had “an awful lot of background,” referring to his relatives who worked in law enforcement and who had been crime victims. The man survived that challenge, but prosecutors subsequently ran a criminal background check on him, told the judge the man had an open warrant for simple assault, and the judge then excused him from the jury.

Nothing in the criminal background check, though, should have disqualified the man from jury service, the Supreme Court ruled. The assault warrant was later dismissed.

The public has until mid-June to review the report and comment on the recommendations, some of which will require action by state legislators and the governor.

Rabner’s committee scrutinized three issues — systemic barriers to jury service, voir dire and peremptory challenges, and institutional and implicit bias.

The 35-member committee spent five months examining the issue, gathering for a two-day conference in November that drew attorneys, national experts on jury selection, chief justices from three other states that undertook jury reforms, and advocates from groups including the NAACP of New Jersey, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, and the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice.

Their recommendations are designed to create more representative jury pools, provide greater support for prospective jurors, and reduce the effects of bias in jury selection, Rabner said in a statement.

“Taken together, the recommendations seek to create a fairer and more equitable process to select juries,” he said.

Other recommendations include:

  • Changing the way courts consider whether a peremptory challenge is exercised properly
  • Establishing a voluntary program for criminal cases that shifts the questioning of jurors from judges to attorneys and includes a consent-based reduction in the number of peremptory challenges each party can make
  • Adopting a one-day or one-trial term for petit jury service in most counties
  • Educating the community about the importance of jury service, including targeted outreach in underrepresented communities
  • Publishing demographic data annually on jurors

Anyone who wants to comment on the recommendations can email [email protected] or mail comments to Glenn A. Grant, administrative director of the courts, Comments on Recommendations of the Committee of the Judicial Conference on Jury Selection, Hughes Justice Complex, P.O. Box 037, Trenton, NJ 08625-0037.

The deadline is June 10. Commenters must provide their names and address (email address or mail address). Anonymous comments will be disregarded. Questions: (609) 376-3000.


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Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.