It is both an honor and a duty to participate in our judicial process as a juror. Any impediment to that participation must be viewed with alarm and skepticism, as those impediments undermine bedrock principles of fairness and due process as well as a fundamental trust in the integrity of the system itself. When the State conducted a criminal background check on and subsequently arrested a qualified Black man for showing up to jury duty and honestly answering questions put to him by the trial court judge, it damaged one of the most basic protections provided to criminal defendants and adulterated a foundational belief in the ethical functioning of the system itself. In taking this most extreme action, the State rendered jury service a pretextual step towards criminalization and rendered the courthouse into a potential threat to freedom rather than a proud locus of civic engagement.
Siding with the arguments made by the ACLU-NJ in a friend-of-the-court brief, the New Jersey Supreme Court, in an unanimous, sweeping decision issued on July 13, 2021, reversed the defendant’s conviction and remanded for a new trial, finding “extensive” evidence of implicit bias against F.G. in the record. The court held that under the circumstances, defendant’s right to be tried by an impartial jury, selected free from discrimination, was violated. The court placed very narrow limits on how and when a criminal background check could be used in jury selection and also called for a re-examine of the jury selection process in New Jersey — with the help of experts, interested stakeholders, the legal community, and members of the public — and to consider additional steps needed to prevent discrimination in the way we select juries. Specifically, the Court called for a Judicial Conference on Jury Selection to assess the important issues and recommend improvements to our system of justice.
- Andujar: Opinion (367 KB pdf)