April 23, 2024

NEWARK – The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice and 51 other social justice advocates – the Jury of Us coalition – sent a letter today to Governor Murphy, Senate President Nicholas Scutari and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin urging them to support passage into law of A834/S292, without any carve-outs, to end New Jersey’s misguided practice of prohibiting people with criminal convictions for life from serving on juries.

New Jersey bans between 438,000 and 533,000 people of the overall population from serving on juries due to criminal convictions, importing the racism of the criminal justice system into its jury selection process. As a result, between 219,000 to 269,000 Black people in New Jersey are banned from jury service because of a conviction – a staggering 23% to 29% of the state’s overall Black population.

“By denying so many people – particularly Black and other people of color – from serving on juries, our juries become whitewashed, failing to reflect the diversity of our state, and people of color accused of crimes are not judged by a jury of their peers,” said the Jury of Us coalition in the letter. “This undermines the legitimacy and integrity of New Jersey’s justice system.”

The letter argues that prohibiting people with criminal convictions from serving on juries also undermines the goal of reintegrating people into society.

“People with criminal convictions who have served their time and regained their freedom should participate in the same civic duties as their neighbors,” continued the letter.

The Jury of Us coalition pointed out in its letter that New Jersey acknowledged the value of community reintegration when it passed historic legislation to restore the vote to people on probation and parole, stating that “[f]oundational anchors like voting and jury service connect the individual to their communities, benefiting everyone.”

The coalition’s letter also pointed out that any potential jury bias from lifting the ban would be addressed by our existing voir dire, “a case-by-case jury selection process where the parties and judge are rightfully in the best position to determine each juror’s ability to be fair and impartial within a particular case, just like they do with any other issue.”

New Jersey would become the fifth state to pass such a law. Maine, Indiana, North Dakota and Washington already allow people with criminal convictions to serve on juries.

A full copy of the letter, including a list of signatories, can be found here.