Juries and Representative Cross Sections (Part 2)

by | Oct 21, 2021 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The Court continued in relevant part: All case-specific questioning was conducted during virtual voir dire before a judge, counsel, and the parties. Following virtual voir dire, a fraction of prospective jurors reported in person to courts for the final phase of selection with facemask and social-distancing precautions observed. New Jersey’s first jury trial under the plan was set to begin in Bergen County on September 21, 2020, and defendant’s was selected as the first trial to be conducted. During pretrial conferences, defense counsel advised that defendant intended to challenge the hybrid jury-selection process, but no such challenge was filed.

On the morning of September 21 — after thirteen prospective jurors were interviewed over the course of two hours — defense counsel filed a challenge of the array. Brian McLaughlin, manager of jury programs for the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), attested that the same Jury Management System used to generate jury pools and send out summonses and questionnaires pre-pandemic was used in the hybrid process, with the exception of added COVID-19 related materials and the temporary disablement of the juror self-deferral option. As they did pre-pandemic, jury managers addressed requests for disqualification, excusals, and deferrals in a standardized prescreening process that did not include trial-specific information. Also consistent with pre-pandemic practices, juror demographic information including race, ethnicity, and gender was not collected.

Regarding defendant’s case, Lourdes Figueroa, jury manager for the Bergen County Vicinage, certified that 800 jurors were summoned. Of that list, 197 did not respond, 70 summonses were returned as “undeliverable,” 178 prospective jurors did not qualify for service under statute, 90 were excused based on statutory factors, and 58 were deferred due to calendar conflicts; in the end, 207 potential jurors remained. Only two prospective jurors required court-supplied equipment in order to participate; one accepted a tablet and one refused a device, which required that individual’s juror service to be rescheduled.

The above-referenced jury manager began his career with the judiciary at the same time that I began mine as an attorney. In 2007, he was a criminal team leader in the Ocean County Superior Court. We were both assigned to the same judge: Brian as a courtroom assistant, I as an attorney for the Office of the Public Defender.