Win in Juror Discrimination Case Recognizes Harm of Implicit Bias

July 13, 2021

ACLU-NJ brief argued that improperly singling out a Black juror for background check further distorts our criminal-legal system

Siding with arguments the ACLU-NJ made in a friend-of-the-court brief, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued a ruling in the case State v. Andujar recognizing implicit or unconscious bias on the part of the State in running a criminal check on a potential Black juror to exclude him from a jury. The court also acknowledged the general harms of implicit bias in jury selection and will establish a Judicial Conference on Jury Selection to explore the nature of discrimination in the jury selection process.

The following statement can be attributed to ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney Karen Thompson:

“Prosecutors wielded their enormous power to discriminate against a potential juror and undermine a defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights – and the Supreme Court correctly ruled that such discrimination is unconstitutional. A Black prospective juror – who met all the requirements for fulfilling this foundational civic duty – was singled out for a background check and later arrested in the courthouse based almost entirely on his proximity to people in his community whose lives had touched the criminal legal system. Given the disparities in New Jersey in everything from traffic stops to arrests for non-violent offenses, these relationships are a racialized inevitability.

"We need guardrails in our criminal legal system to prevent discrimination in jury selection based on disparities created through centuries of racial discrimination, including limits on unwarranted background checks. This ruling calls on New Jersey to institute those checks and to acknowledge the ways that implicit bias can be just as damaging for individuals and communities as explicit bias.”

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