Matthews, Coleman and Gaulkin
Case in which defendant challenged prosecutor's use of peremptory challenges to excuse remaining black prospective jurors, allegedly on basis of race alone, would be remanded for hearing to establish identity of black prospective jurors and to afford prosecutor opportunity to establish motive or reasons for excusing each of them. R. 1:8-3(d).
The crucial issue raised by this appeal which has not been addressed recently by an appellate court of this State is whether "the defendant's Federal and State Constitutional rights to a trial by an impartial jury were violated by the prosecutor's use of peremptory challenges to exclude all prospective black jurors apparently on the basis of race." [Point III, Appellant's Brief].
In a single jury trial, defendant was found guilty of three first degree robberies of two Hispanic attendants at Carmine's Exxon gasoline station, Route 22, Union, New Jersey. The robberies occurred on July 28, 1981, August 21, 1981 and August 22, 1981. Defendant was sentenced to three concurrent 15 year custodial terms with five years of parole ineligibility.
Defendant, who is black, was tried by an all white jury. Defense counsel was black and the assistant prosecutor was white. During the jury selection, nine black potential jurors were seated in
the jury box at different times. Two of them were excused for reasons unrelated to race. The assistant prosecutor used 11 peremptory challenges. See R. 1:8-3(d). He excused the remaining seven black prospective jurors. Defense counsel exhausted his peremptory challenges.
At the conclusion of the jury selection, defense counsel made a motion for a mistrial. He contended that the assistant prosecutor had used his peremptory challenges to excuse seven black prospective jurors based on race alone. He argued
.... the total number of black jurors that were in the panel were nine, that one lady was excused because of physical incapacity. Another lady indicated, in fact, that she could not serve and be observant because she had been the victim of a theft of a radio from her car. And the other seven, your Honor, seated in the jury panel, it is that the prosecutor used out of his 12 challenges seven to excuse those blacks.
In response to the motion for a mistrial, the assistant prosecutor stated:
It's my understanding of the rules that I can exercise my peremptory challenges as I see fit. It's my judgment that the people I have excused, the majority are blacks, but I did excuse certain whites. I have a right to excuse them, just as [defense counsel] had a right to excuse some of the older white businessmen on the jury. He exhausted his challenges.
The trial judge relied heavily on Swain v. Alabama, 380 U.S. 202, 85 S. Ct. 824, 13 L. Ed. 2d 759 (1965) and State v. Smith, 55 N.J. 476 (1970), cert. den. 400 U.S. 949, 91 S. Ct. 232, 27 L. Ed. 2d 256 (1970) in rejecting defendant's constitutional argument. In Swain the majority conceded that circumstances might arise where "The purposes of the peremptory challenge are being diverted." 380 U.S. at 224, 85 S. Ct. at 838. Recently, Justices Marshall and Brennan voted to grant a petition for a writ of certiorari in McCray v. New York, -- U.S. -- , 103 S. Ct. 2438, 77 L. Ed. 2d 1322 (1983), while Justices Stevens, Blackmun and Powell voted to deny the petition. Even those who voted to deny the petition, strongly recommended that state courts should serve "as laboratories in which the issue receives further study before it is addressed by this [Supreme] Court." -- U.S. at -- , 103 S. Ct. at 2439, 77 L. Ed. 2d at 1323.
We are persuaded that New Jersey courts should become "laboratories" to reexamine the use of peremptory challenges to exclude blacks, or other cognizable groups, from serving on petit juries solely because of their group association. We do not read State v. Smith, supra, as precluding this reexamination under N.J. Const.1947, Art. 1, Para. 5, Para. 9, and Para. 10. Three leading states have already started to operate such "laboratories" in their state courts. People v. Wheeler, 22 Cal.3d 258, 148 Cal.Rptr. 890, 583 P.2d 748 (1978); Commonwealth v. Soares, 377 Mass. 461, 387 N.E.2d ...