NJ Supreme Court Clarifies Jury Qualification Methods & Procedures

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NJ Supreme Court Clarifies Jury Qualification Methods & Procedures

In October, the Jur-E Bulletin reported lawyers for defendant Wildemar Dangcil filed an emergency appeal during jury selection claiming that many of the 800 summoned citizens were mysteriously eliminated from the jury pool before the day of trial resulting in an unrepresentative venire.  The New Jersey State Bar Association filed an amicus brief expressing concern about another aspect of the jury selection system: the jury management office’s unfettered discretion to grant or deny juror requests to excuse them from or defer service and the jury office’s failure to collect and maintain records that “could have revealed whether the jurors who were excused consisted disproportionately of certain classes, and thus unfairly skewed the available jury pool towards an unrepresentative sample of the public.”  The intermediate appellate panel rejected the appeal, and the trial went forward.  Dangcil was found guilty.  Earlier this week, The New Jersey Supreme Court issued its opinion in State v. Dangcil again upholding the hybrid jury selection process adopted during COVID-19 and holding that the pre-voir dire disqualification, excusal, or deferral of jurors is not a stage at which defendant is entitled to be present or be represented, and that defendant failed to support his representative-cross-section claim.  In recognition of the important issues raised, but not nearly substantiated, in the appeal and to better assist New Jersey courts in preventing potential underrepresentation and irregularities stemming from the hybrid process and other facially neutral selection procedures, the Court directed the Administrative Office of the Courts to begin collecting jurors’ demographic information.

“Vax-or-Test Rules Gain Traction in Some Federal Courts. Will Others Follow?”

That’s the title of a piece in Law 360 (subscription needed) charting how federal courts are increasingly implementing policies requiring staff to be vaccinated or submit to frequent testing.  For example, the district court in Rhode Island issued a mandatory vaccine rule for staff in May.  Thereafter, all 72 court employees received shots with one granted an accommodation.  The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, for now, is leaving it up to individual courts to establish safety policies.  A judicial-branch-wide policy is under consideration.

And in the state of Florida, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports, in the face of a surge in COVID-19 infections, the chief judge of the 7th Judicial Circuit issued an order saying “physical distancing is mandated for all in-person court proceedings” and, when that’s not possible, face masks are required during jury selection for everyone involved.

Chief Judge Praises Citizens Who Show Up for Jury Service During the Pandemic

Raul A. Zambrano, chief judge of Florida’s 7th Judicial Circuit, has written an op-ed in the Daytona Beach News-Journal extolling the citizens who are showing up “in droves” to serve on juries.  A model effort worth repeating elsewhere?

Baltimore Courts Report on Number of Jury Trials Held Since April

CBS Baltimore says since jury trials resumed in April, Baltimore County has tried 10 murder cases and reached guilty pleas in 15 others.

Ex-Juror Claims Being Bullied — Convicted Alabama Sheriff Seeks New Trial

CBS News 19 in Alabama reports lawyers for former Limestone County sheriff Mike Blakely filed a motion for a mistrial (after being found guilty of theft and ethics violations) based on a juror’s claim that she really wanted to vote to acquit him on some counts in the indictment.  The motion was accompanied by an affidavit from Sue Pentecost, who claimed medical conditions forced her to vote with the rest of the jury in convicting Blakely.  She claimed she gets “extremely lethargic and exhausted” because of her medical conditions, and she cast her vote for guilty because she wanted to get out of the room over fear of dying. She also claims other jurors attempted to bully her during deliberations.