New Jersey Supreme Court Finds Selective Background Check of Juror Was Discriminatory

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New Jersey Supreme Court Finds Selective Background Check of Juror Was Discriminatory

In State v. Andujar, the only Black juror on the venire panel was the subject of a for-cause challenge by the prosecutor.  After the trial judge denied the challenge, the government promptly did a criminal record check of the juror and found incidences of prior arrests and an outstanding municipal court warrant.  The prosecutor then ordered the juror to be arrested on the warrant, thereby eliminating him from further jury service.  The New Jersey Supreme Court vacated Mr. Andujar’s murder conviction and ordered a new trial saying, “Based on all of the circumstances, we infer that [the juror’s] removal from the jury panel may have stemmed from implicit or unconscious bias on the part of the State, which can violate a defendant’s right to a fair trial in the same way that purposeful discrimination can.”  The justices said any requests in future cases for a background check must be approved by the judge, the results shared with all sides, and the potential juror given a chance to respond. reports Deputy Public Defender Joseph Russo called the decision “historic” and stated, “The Court squarely addressed the devastating consequences of unconscious racial bias, which has been a longstanding problem in New Jersey and throughout the country.”

Seen on Facebook – Jury Duty Cynicism

One of our readers noted this posting on Facebook: “jury duty is a wild concept. whenever the government wants, they can just be like 'call off work bestie, we need you to solve a murder—here’s fifteen dollars.'”

Canada’s High Court Approves Retroactive Application of Statute Abolishing Peremptory Challenges

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reports the Canadian Supreme Court has determined a 2019 statute abolishing peremptory strikes must be applied retroactively to jury trials conducted before a 2020 intermediate appellate court’s decision upholding the constitutionality of the Parliament’s abolition of peremptory strikes.

Stop Telling Potential Jurors About What to “Set Aside”

Those are words of advice from senior litigation consultant Ken Broda-Bahm, Ph.D. in Lexology.  His admonition stems from this instruction a federal judge gave the jury in Taylor v. Sisto: “you must as jurors, take all the decisions you have made, all the opinions you have about how people act, how people behave, what kind of people behave in what way, what makes them do that, and you leave them in that box.”  Broda-Bahn believes that instruction is impossible to abide by.  Instead, he asserts attorneys and judges should ask for positive actions from jurors.  He quotes this excerpt from the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in Commonwealth v. Williams, 116 N.E.3d 510 (2019), “[A judge should not focus] on a prospective juror’s ability to put aside his or her beliefs formed as a result of life experiences, but rather on whether that juror, given his or her life experiences and resulting beliefs, is able to listen to the evidence and apply the law as provided by the judge.”

Guilty Verdicts Thrown Out After a Court Employee Gave Advice to a Deliberating Juror

A federal judge ordered a new trial for convicted former Richardson, Texas mayor Laura Jordan and her husband.  The Dallas Morning News reports the decision was issued after some law clerks learned a court officer had given advice to a deliberating juror about 30 minutes before the verdict. After the juror told the officer that she might cause a hung jury, he told her to “put her emotions aside,” not worry about the potential sentences, and to decide the case based on whether she believed the defendants were guilty.  Judge Amos Mazzant vacated the verdict saying, “Jurors are not supposed to convict defendants based on their personal belief as to whether they committed the criminal acts in question.  They are to determine whether the Government has proven guilt ‘beyond a reasonable doubt.’”  Mazzant found the officer’s comments “likely altered the course of deliberations in a meaningful way.”

Georgia Trial Lawyers Debate Whether to Voir Dire Jurors About Pandemic Precautions Such as Their Vaccination Status

Now that jury trials are resuming, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports on the frequency with which Georgia lawyers want to ask jurors about whether they have been vaccinated.