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State v. Dangcil

New Jersey Supreme Court

August 16, 2021

The New Jersey Supreme Court addressed the constitutionality of the hybrid jury selection process implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic. The hybrid process involved sending a jury summonses with a COVID-19 questionnaire. The court administration was responsible for resolving any issues with access to technology for prospective jurors. More than 170 jurors were questioned virtually, and 63 were brought to the courthouse for socially distanced and masked in-person questioning. The defendant made two challenges to the process. First, he argued that he was deprived of his rights to be present and represented by counsel during the hybrid portion of voir dire. The Court held that this portion of the case–disqualifying and excusing jurors for certain statutory factors–is not a critical stage. Therefore the defendant’s right to be present and counsel do not attach. Second, the defendant claimed that his right to be tried fairly by an impartial jury was violated. The Court held that the defendant failed to make out his claim because he did not show any group was excluded or that any group was underrepresented over a significant period. Moreover, the procedure here was facially neutral, and the defendant did not show that it was applied in a discriminatory manner.  As such, the Court affirmed the convictions.

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