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State v. Dangcil

As more and more pretrial detainees faced indefinite excludable time as a result of the suspension of jury trials due to COVID-19, the Office of the Public Defender and ACLU-NJ endorses the Judiciary’s efforts to resume trials with largely virtual jury selection and recognizes the need to screen jurors for COVID-19 related grounds for excusal. Given, however, the disproportionate impact the virus has had on people of color, urban residents and others whose socio-economic status has resulted in subpar access to health care, the brief proposed two procedural safeguards to be implemented in the jury selection process to protect a criminal defendant’s right to have a jury drawn from a fair cross-section of the community.

First, the brief suggests that all COVID-19 related excusals and deferrals should be heard by a judge with the parties present. Second, the Judiciary should collect and provide to the defense demographic data that would allow for an assessment of whether there has been a disparate impact on the representation of a cognizable class in the jury pool.

Status

The Appellate Division denied Defendant’s request to strike the jury panel; it did not reach suggestions raised in our brief. The Supreme Court denied emergent relief, but welcomed a post-trial appeal and invited the OPD and ACLU-NJ to again participate.

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