On August 16, 2021, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided the Bergen County case of State v. Wildemar A. Dangcil. The principal issue concerned the right to a representative cross section of the community in a defendant’s jury pool.
Justice Solomon wrote for a unanimous Court in relevant part: The Court considers defendant Wildemar A. Dangcil’s contentions that the hybrid jury-selection process implemented by the Judiciary in response to the COVID-19 pandemic (1) deprived him of his rights to presence and representation and (2) failed to ensure him a jury drawn from a representative cross-section of the community. Jury selection for defendant’s trial was scheduled for April 20, 2020, but was adjourned in light of the pandemic.
On July 22, 2020, in coordination with representatives from the Attorney General’s Office, Office of the Public Defender, County Prosecutors Association of New Jersey, and New Jersey State Bar Association, the Court established a plan to resume criminal and civil jury selections using a hybrid process intended to maintain the core components of pre-pandemic jury operations modified to protect the health and safety of jurors, attorneys, parties, and all court users. Under the predominately virtual selection process, jurors were to be summoned consistent with pre-pandemic practices, except that they were to receive a summons notice informing them of both the virtual jury-selection process and socially distanced trials. Prospective jurors also received a COVID-19 questionnaire. Court administration and assignment judges were tasked with prescreening jurors for technological access and knowledge, and with providing devices and broadband access as necessary. Judiciary staff prescreened jurors for trial availability, medical inability, and other considerations consistent with pre-pandemic protocols.
The court foreshadows the result of this decision in the preceding paragraph. By noting that the challenged process was coordinated by the State’s four major criminal prosecution and defense organizations, it indicates that the constitutionality of the jury selection process will be upheld.