NEW BRUNSWICK – The New Jersey State Bar Association urged the Judiciary to take a holistic and comprehensive approach in the effort to reduce bias in the jury selection process to ensure defendants in criminal cases face a more fair and representative jury.
NJSBA President Domenick Carmagnola delivered a powerful speech to the Judiciary’s Judicial Conference on Jury Selection held last week. He said it is critical to collect and examine data, as well as remain open-minded and thoughtful in the path to reform the system for the better, especially for Black criminal defendants who, in New Jersey, are incarcerated 12 times more often than their white counterparts – the highest disparity in the nation.
“We believe this conversation and effort should be expansive, thoughtful, and comprehensive in its focus on rooting out bias – both implicit and explicit. The pursuit of a representative justice system, one that all of our citizens can trust and believe in – and be proud of – requires a complex, deep dialogue in order to determine the best ways to rid our system of the systemic and harmful presence of implicit bias and prejudice in jury selection. … We sincerely hope these matters are not pre-ordained and that this is the start of a meaningful journey to reform and improve our system of justice,” he testified. “Action for the sake of action is not the answer, and the wrong action could damage our justice system significantly and have dire consequences for the lives and the liberty of participants in it. We agree that this is the time to act – but we must do so with the goal of getting it right… An appropriate starting point is the means which the pool of jurors is created; greater diversity can most immediately be achieved by the expansion of that pool, and by an examination of the persons who are excused from jury duty, as the Supreme Court required in Dangcil. A critical area of study should be the voir dire process and how courts address challenges, both for-cause and peremptory. 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, should certainly not be viewed as the only available mechanism when, as we have heard, and as we discuss in our interim report, other means achieve these essential goals.”
Read the full remarks here or watch them here.
Carmagnola’s comments were amplified by the over 20 affinity and county bar associations that joined in support of the NJSBA Working Group on Jury Selection Interim Report, which was submitted to the Judiciary in advance of the Judicial Conference.