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NJ Prosecutor Seeks Court Permission to Conduct State’s First Juror Background Checks

Posted Jan 13, 2012 4:15 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Citing a growing concern about potential jurors who conceal criminal convictions in order to qualify to serve on a panel, a New Jersey prosecutor is seeking court permission to perform criminal background checks on those in Essex County.

Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn Murray is scheduled to argue a motion today in superior court in Newark that seeks permission to perform background checks on all jurors in the county's cases. To do so, her office needs only their birth dates and court approval, the Star-Ledger reports.

However, opponents including the state public defender's office and the American Civil Liberties Union contend that background checks would invade jurors' privacy and are arguing that, at the very least, the issue should be publicly debated and decided by the legislature before any such intrusion into jurors' lives is permitted.

"Once a juror’s date of birth is released to counsel, there is no ability to enforce any limitation on how that information can be utilized in investigating the juror," wrote chief trial attorney John McMahon of the county public defender’s office in his brief.

Arguing that Murray and her office are headed down a slippery slope, McMahon called the array of information publicly available about potential jurors "overwhelming," and noted that "the date of birth is the key needed to access many of them."

If juror background checks are approved, Essex County would be the first area of the state to perform them, the article says.

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