Juries and Representative Cross Sections (Part 6)

by | Oct 25, 2021 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The Court concluded with the following in relevant part: Defendant asserts that, because nationwide COVID-19 statistics show disproportionate transmission rates and serious complications among minority populations, the disparity must have manifested itself in a skewed jury pool. The argument is analogous to one rejected in State v. Coyle, 119 N.J. 194, 213 (1990). One’s likelihood of contracting and falling seriously ill due to COVID-19 may have correlative ties with race and ethnicity worthy of consideration, but it does not follow that those particularly susceptible to, or who have contracted, COVID-19 themselves make up a cognizable class under a representative-cross-section analysis. As to technology-based arguments, the Court rejected in Vega-Larregui a similar unsupported contention, noting — as was the case here — that prospective jurors were provided the equipment necessary to participate. 246 N.J. at 127-29.

Defendant has failed to make a showing that any cognizable group — however identified or classified — has been excluded from the jury venire in this case, and the Court therefore does not reach the question of whether age or financial means, for example, might be a cognizable group for purposes of a challenge to a jury venire.

Second, defendant failed to demonstrate substantial underrepresentation over a significant period of time. Third and finally, the jury-selection procedure employed here was facially neutral and defendant has not shown that it was applied in a discriminatory manner. Defendant fails to meet the requirements of Dixon.

The validity of a jury-selection process is not static, and the exercise of special care in unusual circumstances is of the utmost importance. Defendant contends that excusal and deferral records have not been maintained as required by N.J.S.A. 2B:20-9(b) — a claim that cannot be substantiated as such records were never requested. Suffice it to say, those records should be kept. Further, in recognition of the important issues raised, but not nearly substantiated, in this 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 directs the AOC to begin collecting jurors’ demographic information. Disclosure should be voluntary and cover a juror’s identified racial identity, ethnicity, and gender categories.

The tone of the Court’s opinion seems to be one of annoyance with the defense. This is not surprising given Justice Solomon’s tendency to be the most pro-law enforcement Justice with regard to criminal cases.