Changes coming to jury selection in New Jersey

by Sophie Nieto-Munoz, New Jersey Monitor

The next time you’re selected as a juror in New Jersey, expect more questions, new videos on implicit bias, and maybe even more money.

In an effort to reduce bias in jury selection and expand the pool of prospective jurors, the state Supreme Court is adopting 25 changes to the selection process, the court announced Wednesday.

The upgrades to the process derive from recommendations made by a 35-member committee created by Chief Justice Stuart Rabner in July 2021. The panel’s creation came after the high court reversed a murder conviction because the justices said prosecutors in the case likely acted with “implicit or unconscious bias” after requesting a Black man not be selected as a juror. 

Last November, advocates, attorneys, and judicial officials gathered to discuss the issues in jury selection at a two-day conference. Their recommendations were released in April.  

The two court orders signed this week amend court rules for all jury trials, and another creates a pilot program to explore an attorney-conducted voir dire model for criminal matters rather than judge-led jury selection. 

During the November conference, advocates said attorney involvement in cases leads to the discovery of relevant information about potential jurors, allowing attorneys to dismiss someone based on cause, rather than relying on “a gut feeling, hunch, or group bias,” the report says.

New Jersey’s pilot program for attorney-conducted jury selection will take place in three counties to start — Bergen, Camden, and Middlesex — and will be limited to single-defendant criminal trials. 

Among the recommendations approved by the court Tuesday:

  • Adopting a one-day or one-trial term for petit jury service.
  • Removing fines for not showing up to jury duty in most circumstances. 
  • Adding a QR code to jury notices to connect jurors to online information. 
  • Asking about race, ethnicity, and gender on the juror qualification questionnaire. 
  • Targeting outreach in underrepresented communities.
  • Requiring implicit bias training for judges and staff. 
  • Enhancing juror instruction to reinforce awareness of implicit bias. 
  • Publishing annual demographic data on jurors.
  • Educating the public on the importance of jury duty.

While some of the recommendations will take effect immediately, others will take place in 2023. 

And effective Sept. 1, after showing the video explaining implicit bias, judges will ask potential jurors if they can still decide the case fairly and impartially, or if anyone’s “personal characteristics” would make it difficult to decide the case. 

The court also approved two recommendations that need to be implemented through the state Legislature — one would allow people with criminal convictions who have completed their sentence to have their eligibility restored to serve as a juror, and the other would hike juror pay.

The committee also asked the Legislature to consider exploring new ways to create jury lists. 

%d bloggers like this: