SEPTEMBER 13, 2015, 11:13 PM LAST UPDATED: MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 14, 2015, 12:35 AM
BY KIBRET MARKOS AND SALVADOR RIZZO
STAFF WRITERS |
A state appeals court ruling that directs judges in criminal trials to immediately remove jurors who display any racial bias is likely to reverberate through the jury selection process, Bergen and Passaic county judges and lawyers said.
The ruling exhorts New Jersey judges to probe deeper when questioning potential jurors about their views on race, and to treat with more scrutiny attitudes and opinions they previously might have viewed more benignly.
But experts say the task is complicated by the fact that the adversarial legal system encourages prosecutors and defense attorneys to try to fill the panel with jurors sympathetic to their causes — an attempt often based on the prospective jurors’ backgrounds, beliefs or racial identities. The ruling offers no advice for how judges can better detect subconscious prejudice, one Bergen County criminal defense lawyer said.
The strongly worded ruling, issued Aug. 31 by Appellate Division Judge Jose L. Fuentes, reversed the carjacking conviction of two black men in Union County, finding that the trial judge erred by failing to remove a juror who had expressed racial bias.
Fuentes wrote that just as the “hateful practice” of police racial profiling on New Jersey highways has been roundly condemned and outlawed, judges should be uncompromising in preventing people from serving on juries if those people associate criminal behavior with race.