While conscious or intentional mistreatment of minorities is typically the province of a relatively small number of bigots who live among us, it is the insidious existence of unrecognized, unconscious, or implicit racial bias in our society which has and continues to systemically threaten and undermine the achievement of racial justice for all. However, a major step in the right direction toward addressing implicit racism in the New Jersey courts was recently taken by the New Jersey Supreme Court when it issued its unanimous decision in State v. Andujar, 2021 N.J. LEXIS 733 (2021), calling for the Judiciary to arrange for a Judicial Conference on Jury Selection to convene sometime in the Fall of 2021 to explore the nature of discrimination in the jury selection process.
Following a first-degree murder conviction, Defendant Edwin Andujar appealed his conviction, arguing he was denied the right to a fair trial because race discrimination infected the jury selection process. The appeal focuses on the jury selection process at trial regarding F.G., a Black male from Newark, New Jersey. During voir dire, – the process of questioning potential jury members for their suitability for jury service – F.G. was questioned extensively on his relationship with the criminal justice system and his affiliation with family and close friends who have been accused of or victims of crime.
The State challenged F.G. for cause and asked that he be removed, noting his “background,” “lingo” used about the criminal justice system, and close ties to individuals engaged in criminal activity call into question whether F.G. respects the criminal justice system. The defense countered, stating “it is not a hidden fact that living in certain areas you are going to have more people who are accused of crimes, more people who are victims of crime,” and to “hold it against [F.G.] that these things have happened . . . to people that he knows . . . would mean that a lot of people from Newark would not be able to serve.” The trial court overruled the prosecutor’s application, finding F.G. would make a fair and impartial juror. The prosecution then conducted a criminal history check on F.G., revealing that there was a warrant out for his arrest and that the State would be taking F.G. into custody the next day. The State then renewed its application to remove F.G. for cause, and successfully did so without objection and arrested F.G. On appeal, Defendant and his amici curiae contended the use of discriminatory background checks on prospective jurors violates the State and Federal Constitutions, particularly equal protection, due process, and the right to a trial by a jury comprised of a fair cross-section of the community.