Religious Jurors Can’t Be Barred, Says N.J. Court

The New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that potential jurors cannot be dismissed because they wear religious garb or in some other way identify their religious leanings.

In the unanimous Dec. 22 ruling in State v. Lloyd, the court concluded that a prosecutor erred when he dismissed two citizens during jury selection for a criminal trial because of their perceived religious leanings. According to the 2000 pretrial transcript, the prosecutor dismissed potential jurors because one “was a minister...or was a missionary” and the other “was, apparently, Muslim, based upon his dress and the name.” According to the Essex County prosecutor, “people who tend to be demonstrative about their religions tend to favor defendants.”

Citing state case law, the court noted that “peremptory challenges may not be used to remove potential jurors who belong to a ‘cognizable group...defined on the basis of religious principle.” Chief Justice Deborah Poritz, writing for the court, said the prosecutor’s dismissals of the jurors suggested “that Muslims who wear clothing associated with their faith, as a group, cannot sit as impartial jurors or follow the judge’s instructions on the law.”