NJ jury selection: Courts make sweeping changes to process

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What laws need to change?

The committee suggested that jurors be paid more (jurors are currently paid $5 a day for the first three days of the trial) and that those convicted of certain crimes be allowed to serve as jurors.

State lawmakers should pass laws to make these changes.

In January, Congresswoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson (D-Mercer) reintroduced legislation that would allow people with prior convictions to serve as jurors.

The measure has yet to receive a legislative committee hearing, although she said the judiciary’s recommendation could improve support for her bill.

“I think when we talk about restorative justice, it’s one of those great topics that’s been overlooked,” Reynolds-Jackson said. “I feel like we have some credibility behind it. Maybe now that’s what we need for the leadership to get things done, to get an audience.

In 2019, Governor Phil Murphy signed legislation that restored the franchise to more than 80,000 people on probation or parole.

“Normally you wouldn’t be chosen to be a juror because you’re not a registered voter. Well, we just restored the right to vote for thousands of people. And now we should also be able to increase the number of jurors. Jury duty is not one of those prestigious jobs, but it is a public service that we should all participate in,” Reynolds-Jackson said.

Henal Patel, director of democracy and social justice programs at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, served on the committee and called it a “great experience.”

Patel said many of the endorsements, including the recommendation to allow those convicted of certain crimes to serve as jurors, would have a big impact on people of color.

“A lot of it started with Ferguson,” Patel said, referring to a 2014 case in which a Missouri grand jury declined to indict a police officer who killed an unarmed black man named Michael Brown. “People increasingly understand that our criminal justice system is… flawed, but actually broken, that there are a number of problems here – systemic problems, systematic problems. Jury service is an important element in helping to remedy this. It’s something that you and I and every person here are really participating in.

How will these changes address underrepresentation?

A 2021 Equal Justice Initiative report found that black people are disproportionately underrepresented in jury panels nationwide.

State courts will now ask potential jurors three new questions, about their gender, race and ethnicity during qualification questionnaires, to better assess jury demographics.

Additionally, courts will include demographic information on jury rolls and provide an annual data report

“Our incarcerated population is 61% black, in a state that is about 15% black,” Patel said. “We have the worst racial disparity and adult incarceration in the country. It’s all wrapped up…and it’s tied to the jury service pool.

Overall, the Judicial Conference Committee on Jury Selection approved more than two dozen recommendations in July.

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