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Changes to Jury Selection in NJ After Supreme Court Case

Morristown Minute

Changes to the Jury Selection Process Come After NJ State Supreme Court Case Highlights Areas of Bias in the State Judicial System.

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A supreme court committee, tasked with improving the jury selection process in New Jersey, released a series of recommendations on April 28, 2022, that aim to expand the jury pools and “enhance fairness in the selection process.

The Judicial Conference Committee established in 1922, is the national policy-making body for the federal courts. The Judicial Conference on Jury Selection is a subsidiary charged with the more specific goal of identifying and creating solutions for bias in the jury selection process.

“New Jersey today allows for the highest number of peremptory challenges in the nation – more than double the national average - based on a statute enacted in the late 1800s. Yet, as the United States Supreme Court acknowledged decades ago, peremptory challenges can invite discrimination.” – The Judicial Conference on Jury Selection, Nov. 10 & 12, 2021

The committee's report includes 25 recommendations to be considered by the Supreme Court this summer after a period of public comment.

“The Committee's recommendations, as listed in this notice, are intended to improve the jury selection process in New Jersey by expanding the pool of individuals summoned and eligible to serve as jurors; supporting qualified individuals in serving as jurors; reducing the effects of purposeful discrimination and all forms of bias, including implicit bias in jury processes; and increasing attorney involvement in jury selection.” - Jury Reform, Recommendations of the Committee of the Judicial Conference on Jury Selection, Publication for Comment

Efforts to improve jury selection in New Jersey began after a unanimous state Supreme Court decision in State v. Andujar, decided on July 13, 2021, in which defendant Edwin Andujar argued he was denied the right to a fair trial because racial discrimination “infected the jury selection process.”

The opinion of the court called for a conference consisting of members of the New Jersey bar, national experts on jury selection, and Chief Justices from three other states that undertook jury reforms. The two-day conference was held in November 2021.

The 35-member committee, meeting over a period of five months, formed three groups focusing on different topics highlighted in State v. Andujar: systemic barriers to jury service, voir dire and peremptory challenges, and strategies to address institutional and implicit bias.

One key recommendation is a proposed new court rule intended to reduce bias in the jury selection process. The new rules would change the way courts consider whether a peremptory challenge was exercised properly.

Other recommendations include:

  • A pilot program where jurors are questioned by attorneys rather than judges.
  • A reduction in the number of peremptory challenges available to each party.
  • A one-day or one-trial term for petit jury service in most counties.
  • Add questions on race, ethnicity, and gender to the jury qualification questionnaire.
  • Increase juror compensation
  • Restore eligibility to serve on juries to individuals with certain prior criminal convictions

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