Published on: Wednesday, July 13, 2022

New Jersey judiciary officials on Wednesday unveiled a series of jury selection reform measures that include a pilot program in which attorneys instead of judges will lead the questioning of prospective jurors as well as a new court rule aimed at reducing bias in the use of peremptory challenges (article available here).

In what would give lawyers a greater role in the jury selection process — yet with fewer peremptory challenges — the state Supreme Court on Tuesday issued an order authorizing the pilot program in Bergen, Camden and Middlesex counties to gauge the possible advantages of attorney-conducted voir dire, or ACVD, instead of a judge-led approach.

The program will start on or after Sept. 1 and be limited at first to single-defendant criminal matters. Participation in the voluntary program would require the consent of both the prosecutor and defense counsel.

ACVD backers have asserted that "the attorney-driven process enables more robust and probing voir dire, which facilitates discovery of relevant information about prospective jurors and informs for-cause challenges," according to the order.

The current system in criminal matters involves judges asking jurors nearly 30 mandatory model questions, with attorneys' participation limited to "the advance submission of additional open-ended questions and occasional follow-up questions if permitted by the judge," the order states.

Under the pilot program, the judge will describe the case and ask certain specific questions, but ACVD is "a flexible and fluid process," according to a framework attached to the order. Lawyers "will ask questions, both independently and to follow up on juror responses," and "no relevant questions or topics are off-limits during ACVD," the framework states.