October 28, 2022
NEWARK – The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice and 40 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 A977/S3043 to end New Jersey’s misguided practice of prohibiting people with criminal convictions for life from serving on juries.
The Jury of Us Coalition argued that the lifetime ban undermines both the foundational right to a jury of one’s peers and a fair trial, as well as the goal of reintegrating formerly incarcerated people into our communities.
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 and people of color accused of crimes are not judged by a jury of their peers. This undermines the legitimacy and integrity of New Jersey’s justice system,” said the Jury of Us Coalition in the letter.
Prohibiting people with criminal convictions from serving on juries is also at odds with 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 argued 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 (jury selection) system – which is set to be strengthened through the recommendations of the Judicial Conference on Jury Selection.
Maine, Indiana, North Dakota and Washington already allow people with criminal convictions to serve on juries. Ending the ban would be a win/win for justice and strengthening our communities.