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Chief Justice Stuart Rabner. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

New Jersey courts to resume in-person jury trials in coming weeks

By Nikita Biryukov, September 18 2020 11:28 am

New Jersey’s courts will hold a jury trial for the first time in more than six months next week, the New Jersey Supreme Court announced Friday.

Jury selection for the first such trial, to be held in Bergen County, will begin on Monday. Jury selection and preliminary questioning will still be conducted remotely, though follow-up questions and jury challenges will be made in person.

“The decision to resume a limited number of jury trials is motivated by the ongoing restrictions of the rights of criminal defendants, including more than 2,500 defendants who have been indicted and are detained in jail awaiting trial, as well as the rights of victims of crime seeking access to the courts to complete a critical step in their recovery,” the Supreme Court said in an order signed by Chief Justice Stuart Rabner.

Prospective jurors who make it through the digital selection will appear in-person at the Bergen County Courthouse on Monday, Sept. 28. Social distancing guidelines will be in place for those appearances.

Atlantic County will begin virtual jury selection sometime that week, and Cumberland County will do the same the following week.

Mercer and Passaic Counties will begin that process the week of Oct. 19.

“For more than six months, the New Jersey courts have sustained court operations to the greatest extent possible without jury trials,” the Supreme Court’s order said. “During that time, public health authorities have confirmed that Covid-19 trends in New Jersey no longer require all residents to stay at home, and those same authorities have issued guidance for how businesses, schools, and other institutions including the courts can safely resume some level of in-person activity.”

The first jury trials will involve relatively simple criminal cases, namely those with a single defendant, and the proceedings will be livestreamed.

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