December 4, 2023
NEWARK – The Assembly Judiciary Committee today voted in favor of A977, which allows people with criminal convictions to serve on juries.
“We commend members of the Assembly Judiciary Committee for moving this important piece of legislation forward,” said Henal Patel, Law & Policy Director at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “While we urge the removal of any carve-outs, today’s vote lays the ground for making our trials more fair, our democracy more robust and our communities more inclusive.”
“Denying people convicted of criminal offenses the ability to serve on a jury is a lose/lose; it harms both our communities and our justice system – and contracts our democracy at a time when we need to expand it,” said Micauri Vargas, Associate Counsel in the Democracy & Justice Program at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “The right to a jury of one’s peers is fundamental to our justice system and our democracy – as is the ability to participate in civic obligations, including when people have prior convictions or regain their freedom.”
This legislation also addresses the racial injustice of the jury service ban. New Jersey’s criminal justice system has the worst racial disparities in the country when it comes to incarceration.
“This legislation takes an important step in stemming the importation of the racial injustice of the criminal justice system into our jury system,” added Vargas. “For New Jersey to have trials by a jury of peers, a guaranteed right, we cannot bar about a quarter of our state’s Black population from serving on a jury,” said Vargas.
New Jersey bans between 438,000 and 533,000 people of the overall population from serving on juries due to criminal convictions. As a result, between 219,000 to 269,000 Black people in New Jersey are banned from jury service because of a conviction – about a staggering quarter of the state’s overall Black population.
While the Institute supports this legislation and its historic accomplishments, we remain opposed to the amendment carving out individuals with convictions for certain crimes.
Such a carve-out is illogical and undermines key purposes of the law: reintegration into community through civic rights and obligations; and creating fairer trials through more inclusive and racially diverse juries. Also notable is that while jury service should not be used as a tool of punishment in any case, the carve-out actually has the reverse effect of providing a nonsensical waiver of a civic duty to those who have more serious crimes in their history.
As the bill now goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee and floor votes in both chambers, the Institute looks forward to its passage and calls for the removal of the carve-out amendment.