NJ jury selection reforms begin in September with pilot program

New Jersey is launching a pilot programin some counties, this will largely change how a pool of potential jurors is narrowed down before a trial begins.

With the program beginning September 1 in Middlesex, Bergen and Camden counties, lawyers will have the opportunity to lead the questioning of potential jurors, instead of letting the show be led by the judge presiding over the case.

“It’s your way of trying to make sure there’s not someone on the jury that you think won’t be fair to you,” said Domenick Carmagnola, outgoing president of the New Jersey State Bar Association.

The ruling is one of several recent proposals approved by the New Jersey Supreme Court that seek to eliminate bias in the jury selection process.

“Studies show that lawyers do a better job of uncovering biases and preconceptions than judges do,” said Alexander Shalom, senior supervising attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey. “Ultimately, we believe this is the system that gives us the best chance of having juries that are truly representative of our state’s diversity.”

The pilot program will be voluntary, meaning both the prosecutor and defense attorney will have to agree to the process, known as a lawyer-led voir dire.

The program is limited to criminal cases, specifically single-accused criminal cases. Carmagnola, with the Bar Association, said this was one of the few issues the group had with implementing the trial.

“Our recommendation was not to limit it to criminal cases,” he said. “Include civil cases, so we have a broader base to look at.”

They also take issue with the rule that participating attorneys must accept a reduced number of peremptory challenges (objections to prospective jurors). Currently, in cases involving homicide, sexual assault, burglary and other serious crimes, the defense is allowed 20 peremptory challenges and the prosecution has 10. With this pilot, the defense will have eight and the charge will be six.

Other reforms announced by the Supreme Court in July include restoring jury eligibility to people who have served their sentences following a criminal conviction and beginning the process of increasing jury pay.

Dino Flammia is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at [email protected]

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