NJSBA report on jury selection to Judicial Conference offers insights, recommendations

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November 8, 2021
For Immediate Release
Contact: Kate Coscarelli
732-937-7548
   
NEW BRUNSWICK - The New Jersey State Bar Association has submitted an extensive report on jury selection in advance of this week’s Judiciary Judicial Conference that will also feature remarks from Association President Domenick Carmagnola. 
     
The NJSBA Working Group on Jury Selection Interim Report examines the role bias plays in the jury selection process, the function of for-cause and peremptory challenges in the justice system, and reforms to the process for jury selection underway around the country. It also offers recommendations about steps forward. 
     
Read the NJSBA report here. 
     
The Judicial Conference on Jury Selection will be held at the New Jersey Law Center in New Brunswick on Nov. 10 and 12. The event will be hybrid and members of the public and legal community can view plenary sessions, presentations by experts and panels on topics covering implicit bias, jury representativeness, peremptory challenges, and demographic data of jurors. NJSBA President Domenick Carmagnola is scheduled to address the conference on Friday, Nov. 12. To see the agenda or watch sessions, click here
     
Since the Supreme Court announced the Conference this summer, Carmagnola has focused a working group of attorneys and former jurists to develop recommendations on the necessary steps to identify and root out bias – both explicit and implicit – in the selection of juries, which is the central focus of the event. The group gathered information from experts and bar leaders, as well as reviewed scores of literature and other research relevant to the issues. Raymond M. Brown and Michael G. Donahue III are co-chairs of the NJSBA working group. 
     
The NJSBA report suggests that the pursuit of a representative justice system requires a complex, deep dialogue. It provides recommendations about the use of peremptory challenges; the value of expanded voir dire; suggested Batson reforms; additional ways to summon jurors; expanded training on bias for all involved in the process, including judges, attorneys and potential jurors; and urges the courts to collect and analyze additional data about juries. 
     
“This is an historic moment for the Judiciary in New Jersey, where success will balance the scales of justice for generations ahead. But for there to be meaningful reform, it is the NJSBA’s view that we understand that there is no quick fix to the systemic scourge of bias and prejudice. We must consider a more holistic and comprehensive approach than that which appears to be under consideration here, largely limited to the reduction of peremptory challenges and largely focused on considerations of efficiency,” the report states. 
     
Added Carmagnola: “The NJSBA urges everyone involved in this process to think expansively and creatively. The pursuit of a more perfect system should include many approaches that involve critical stakeholders to test and measure the best path ahead, while enhancing substantive and sustained training for all. This is an opportunity to ensure meaningful and substantive justice for all for generations to come.” 
     
Here is an excerpt from the NJSBA Working Group on Jury Selection Interim Report:
     
“The New Jersey State Bar Association (NJSBA) and its members wholly embrace the elimination of bias, including implicit bias, in the justice system and the NJSBA welcomes and advocates for a holistic look at the systemic issues aimed at determining the best and most effective ways to address and eliminate bias in the jury selection process. That should start at the beginning and include examining how people are summoned; considering legislation to address implicit bias in venirepersons, judges, and attorneys; and educating jurors, lawyers, and judges. A critical area of study should fall to the voir dire process and specifically judicial challenges for cause. There is no dispute that explicit and implicit bias can infect challenges to jurors. Reducing or eliminating peremptory challenges, which have long been viewed as the only tool available to Black and other criminal defendants of color to ensure unbiased juries, is not the best way to achieve this goal,” the report states. “As jury selection involves fact-finders making significant decisions about individuals’ lives and liberty, everything possible should be done to analyze, address and root out implicit bias from the venire. The NJSBA is committed to exploring changes that may be helpful in solving the problems identified in State v. Andujar, to ensure we are not applying a Band-Aid solution to a wound that has festered in our society, and in our system of justice, for centuries.” 
     
The Conference emanates from the New Jersey Supreme Court’s a unanimous opinion in State v. Andujar, 247 N.J. 275 (July 13, 2021). Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote the decision concluding that a murder defendant was denied a fair trial when a prosecutor ran a background check on a Black prospective juror without judicial approval. The decision has been called “monumental” by the legal community because of its implications on future jury selection proceedings. The opinion included a call for the Administrative Office of the Courts to convene a Judicial Conference on Jury Selection pursuant to R. 1:35-1 to examine how to root out and address discrimination during jury selection
   

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