Monday, February 24, 2020
The New Jersey Appellate Division has reversed a first degree knowing and purposeful murder conviction, in part because the prosecutor had a records check performed on a minority prospective juror who had not been excused for cause, found a warrant and had the juror removed and arrested
The court then called in the jury pool, and informed F.G. that he was excused and that he should report to the first floor. F.G. left, after wishing that the court "[h]ave a nice day." He was arrested immediately thereafter once officers checked to make sure the hallway was clear of potential jurors.
A Batson-type analysis
In the end, we cannot determine with certainty whether the prosecutor applied her reasons evenhandedly to all prospective jurors, because we do not know: whether any other venire members responded affirmatively to questions about the involvement of friends or family members with the criminal justice system; if any other venire members grew up or lived in the same area of Newark as F.G.; or the racial composition of the jury that convicted defendant.
The State's argument that even if the record check was performed improperly, there was no relief available to rectify the matter ignores the remedies available to a trial court to address Batson/Gilmore violations.
The court concludes
In order to secure a defendant's right to a jury as guaranteed by the United States and New Jersey constitutions, we compel citizens by summons to come to the courthouse to be considered as potential jurors. For most, this is a disruption of their work and family lives. We ask them to disclose personal, often uncomfortable information. The compulsion to appear should not include the threat of arrest if we seek to convincingly assure the citizenry that jury service is an honor and a duty. Record checks run because of dissatisfaction with a judge's ruling, as was done here, undermine the framework within which the trial proceeds and alters the court's exclusive province in administration of the jury venire. Because the court made no findings of fact concerning the prosecution's selective use of a criminal record check and granted no relief to the defense whatsoever, defendant's conviction must be reversed, his sentence vacated, and the matter remanded for a new trial.