Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

State v. Fuller

December 22, 2004

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
LLOYD FULLER, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 356 N.J. Super. 266 (2002).

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

(This syllabus is not part of the opinion of the Court. It has been prepared by the Office of the Clerk for the convenience of the reader. It has been neither reviewed nor approved by the Supreme Court. Please note that, in the interests of brevity, portions of any opinion may not have been summarized).

This appeal raises the question whether a prosecutor may use peremptory challenges to excuse a potential juror who wears clothing associated with a religious group or who indicates in voir dire that he has worked as a missionary.

Lloyd Fuller was indicted on charges of first-degree robbery and fourth-degree possession of an imitation firearm for unlawful purposes. Fuller's trial began with jury selection on October 24, 2000. As prescribed by rule, the trial court conducted voir dire of potential jurors, excusing certain members of the pool for cause and permitting the parties to exercise preemptory challenges. The prosecutor used his first challenge to excuse a white juror, C.E., who disclosed that he and his wife worked as missionaries. When the prosecutor used his next four challenges against African Americans, and after the last of those potential jurors, M.S., was excused, defense counsel objected. Defense counsel argued that the strikes constituted impermissible discrimination under State v. Gilmore, which held that a prosecutor may not use peremptory challenges to exclude African Americans solely because the prosecutor believes that African Americans have a group bias. 103 N.J. 508 (1986).

The prosecutor responded with his reasons for excusing the potential jurors by explaining that the first juror excused, C.E., "was a missionary and white," and the next three who were black were excused because they all had members of their family or friends who were convicted of crimes. He further explained that the last juror, M.S., who also was black, appeared to be a Muslim, and the prosecutor found that people "who tend to be demonstrative about their religions tend to favor defendants" to a greater extent than those who are not as religious. In his responses during voir dire, M.S. did not discuss his religious convictions or say that he anticipated any difficulty in serving fairly and impartially. The prosecutor did not inquire whether M.S.'s religious beliefs would interfere with his ability to follow the court's instructions. The prosecutor nonetheless argued that the adequacy of his reasons for challenging M.S. were self-evident, that "the gentleman who came in wearing head to toe black and a skull cap is obviously Muslim."

The trial court overruled defense counsel's objection, and the jury convicted Fuller on both counts of the indictment. Thereafter, defense counsel filed a motion for a new trial pursuant to Rule 3:20-1 based on alleged constitutional violations in the course of jury selection. The prosecutor asserted that he had not dismissed anyone because they were of any particular religion or belief. In essence, the prosecutor argued that his peremptory challenges were permissible because he had no motive to discriminate against a particular religion or particular religious beliefs. Rather, he took exhibitions of religious devotion as an indication of lenient tendencies towards the defense, a permissible basis for exclusion. Accepting the prosecutor's argument, the trial court denied Fuller's motion for a new trial.

A divided panel of the Appellate Division affirmed. State v. Fuller, 356 N.J. Super. 266 (App. Div. 2002).

The majority opined that as a threshold matter in any Gilmore-based equal protection claim, a defendant first must identify a constitutionally cognizable group. In the view of the majority, people who are demonstrative about their religions do not constitute a cognizable group, and Fuller therefore could not meet that requirement. The dissent criticized the majority for its narrow construction of the holding in Gilmore. The dissent found that the majority's view improperly limited protection to religious beliefs associated with a specific group or denomination.

Fuller appealed as of right to the Supreme Court under Rule 2:2-1(a)(2).

HELD

The jurors excluded in this case are members of a cognizable group, and the prosecutor failed to present sufficient evidence of situation-specific bias to justify the State's peremptory challenges.

1. The United States Supreme Court relied on the guarantees of the Equal Protection Clause of the Federal Constitution to bar a prosecutor's use of peremptory challenges to exclude members of the jury based on race in 1965. That Court later held that upon a defendant's prima facie showing of discrimination by the prosecution in selection of a jury, the State must come forward with a neutral explanation for challenging black jurors. The Supreme Court expanded this rule to prohibit peremptory challenges based on gender. It remains unclear whether this federal equal protection analysis compels a similar result when a peremptory challenge is based on religion. In the absence of a definitive ruling from the United States Supreme Court, this Court discerns an emerging consensus to extend the equal protection analysis to peremptory challenges based solely on religious affiliation. Challenges based on religious beliefs or religious activities, however, are generally permitted. (pp. 13-26)

2. New Jersey has chosen a different path. In Gilmore, this Court found that the State Constitution provides greater protection for defendants in the jury selection process than is accorded under the Federal Constitution. For this Court, defining the permissible bounds for the exercise of peremptory challenges by a prosecutor implicates the defendant's constitutional right to trial by an impartial jury under various provisions of Article I of the New Jersey Constitution. Relying on those provisions, Gilmore identified the cognizable groups for purposes of impartial jury analysis to be "those defined on the basis of religious principles, race, color, ancestry, national origin and sex." The Court then adapted the burden-of-proof rules fashioned in disparate treatment cases brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. If a defendant establishes that the potential jurors wholly or disproportionally excluded members of a cognizable group, the burden shifts to the prosecution to come forward with evidence that the peremptory challenges are justifiable on the basis of concerns about situation-specific bias. (pp. 26-33)

3. The question posed here is whether potential jurors who wear religious garb or engage in religious activities fall within the protected group that is "defined on the basis of religious principles." According to the prosecutor, he excused the two jurors because one was a "minister or missionary" and the other "was, apparently, Muslim, based on his dress" and his name. The prosecutor took the Muslim "garb" and "missionary" activity as signs of religious devotion, explaining that "people who tend to be demonstrative about their religions tend to favor defendants." Some religious affiliations are more apparent than others, not because of individual strong beliefs of the members, but, rather, as a function of religious tenets and requirements. Under the prosecutor's rationale, any person whose religion requires or even encourages certain modes of dress is understood to be affiliated with a specific religion and may be considered by the prosecutor to be demonstrably devout. Clothing, in those cases, is little more than a proxy for religion. That the prosecutor also struck C.E., ostensibly because he was a missionary, does not change the result. When describing what being a missionary meant to him, the prosecutor focused on the equivalence between "missionary" and "some sort of religious affiliation." That association suggests that as to C.E., the prosecutor was using his missionary status as a proxy for religion. For purposes of establishing a prima facie case in this jurisdiction, the adherents of religions that encourage or require visible signs of identification or certain religionbased activities will be deemed members of a cognizable group within the meaning of Gilmore. (pp. 33-39)

4. Because the jurors excluded in this case are members of a cognizable group, the Court must examine the prosecutor's statements to determine whether he has presented sufficient evidence of situation-specific bias to justify the State's peremptory challenges. The record contains no evidence that the peremptory challenges in respect of either M.S. or C.E. were rooted in case specific bias indicating they would be disposed to favor the defense. The prosecutor's belief that demonstrably religious persons are all alike in sharing defense-minded sympathies sweeps so broadly as to attenuate its validity by subverting "valid trial-related reasons" to approximate presumed group bias itself. (pp. 39-41)

5. The State has argued that allowing a peremptory strike based on indicia of religious belief is preferable to "subject[ing] potential jurors to intrusive, and possibly offensive, questioning about their beliefs." The Court agrees with the State that generally subjecting jurors to questions about their religious beliefs is intrusive and unnecessary. Proper questioning for a challenge should be limited to asking jurors if they know of any reason why they could not sit, if they would have any difficulty in following the law as given by the court, or if they would have any difficulty in sitting in judgment. In such a case, the Court expects the trial courts to manage voir dire in a manner that neither disadvantages the State from obtaining the information it needs, nor ignores the privacy interests of potential jurors. (pp. 41-44)

The judgment of the Appellate Division is REVERSED, and the matter is REMANDED to the Law Division for a new trial.

JUSTICES LONG, LaVECCHIA, ZAZZALI, ALBIN and WALLACE join in CHIEF JUSTICE PORITZ's opinion.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Justice Poritz

Argued December 2, 2003

This appeal raises the question whether a prosecutor may use peremptory challenges to excuse a potential juror who wears clothing associated with a religious group or who indicates in voir dire that he has worked as a missionary. During jury selection for defendant's trial, the prosecutor used four of his first five peremptory challenges to excuse African-American venirepersons. Defense counsel objected on the ground that those strikes constituted impermissible discrimination under State v. Gilmore, in which we held that a prosecutor may not use peremptory challenges to exclude African Americans from the petit jury solely because the prosecutor believes that African Americans have a group bias. 103 N.J. 508, 517 (1986) (Gilmore). The prosecutor responded, in part, that two of the potential jurors he had excused were "demonstrative about their religions," and that in his experience, such persons "tend to favor defendants to a greater extent than do persons who are, shall we say, not as religious." The trial court accepted the prosecutor's explanation and, subsequently, denied a motion for a new trial that raised the same issue.

Defendant appealed, and a divided panel of the Appellate Division affirmed. The majority distinguished between peremptory challenges exercised to exclude members of particular religious groups and peremptory challenges exercised to exclude persons the prosecutor believes have a pro-defendant bias because they are religious. State v. Fuller, 356 N.J. Super. 266, 279-80 (App. Div. 2002) certif. denied, 176 N.J. 426 (2003). In the view of the majority, the former constitutes discrimination based on "religious principles" and is prohibited by Article I, paragraph 5 of the New Jersey Constitution, whereas the latter is permissible because persons who are "demonstrative about their religions" are not part of a cognizable group capable of being targeted for group bias. Ibid. The dissent found that state discrimination against persons "demonstrative about their religions" offends the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, as well as the prohibition against discrimination based on "religious principles" found in Article I, paragraph 5 of the New Jersey Constitution. Id. at 294-98.

This appeal is before us as of right based on the dissent in the Appellate Division. R. 2:2-1(a)(2).

I.

Defendant Lloyd Fuller was indicted on charges of first degree robbery, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1, and fourth degree possession of an imitation firearm for unlawful purposes, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4(e). The details relating to defendant's indictments, including the participants and the events, are relevant to this appeal only to the extent that they lack any connection to religion.

Defendant's trial began with jury selection on October 24, 2000. As prescribed by rule, the trial court conducted voir dire of potential jurors, excusing certain members of the pool for cause and permitting the parties to exercise peremptory challenges. See R. 1:8-3. The prosecutor used his first challenge to excuse a white juror, C.E., who disclosed that he and his wife worked as missionaries. When the prosecutor used his next four challenges against African Americans, and after the last of those potential jurors, M.S., was excused, defense counsel objected to the manner in which the prosecutor had exercised his peremptory challenges. Counsel pointed out that the prosecutor had challenged four African-American jurors in a row, and that in respect of all but the first, the voir dire had not suggested they would be unable to serve. The prosecutor responded with his reasons for excusing the four African-American jurors:

Well, to make sure we are very clear about this, Judge, the first juror who was excused was [C.E.], who was a missionary and white.... The next three who were black all had members of their family or friends who were convicted of crimes.

And the last juror [who] was excused was also black, [M.S.], [and] is Muslim. And I have found with regard to juror number one [C.E.], juror number four [M.S.] that people who tend to be demonstrative about their religions tend to favor defendants to a greater extent than do persons who are, shall we say, not as religious. So... those are the reasons for my excusals of the jurors at this point.

There is no information in the record concerning M.S.'s religious beliefs or how those beliefs might prevent him from sitting on the jury. In his responses during voir dire, M.S. did not discuss his religious convictions or say that he anticipated any difficulty in serving fairly and impartially.*fn1

And the prosecutor, for his part, did not inquire whether M.S.'s religious beliefs would interfere with his ability to follow the court's instructions or to deliberate in an unbiased manner. The prosecutor nonetheless argued that the adequacy of his reasons for challenging M.S. were self-evident, that "the gentleman who came in wearing head to toe black and a skull cap is obviously Muslim, M U S L I M."

The trial court overruled defense counsel's objection, and the jury convicted defendant on both counts of the indictment. Thereafter, defense counsel filed a motion for a new trial pursuant to Rule 3:20-1 based on alleged constitutional violations in the course of jury selection. At that point, the prosecutor asserted that he had not dismissed anyone"because they were of any particular religion or belief." He explained:

[The w]hite juror I dismissed, I believe, was a minister, if memory serves me correctly, or was a missionary -- I tend to forget; but had some sort of religious affiliation. And the other juror was, apparently, Muslim, I would say, based upon his dress and the name, if I'm not mistaken. But I did not dismiss any juror because of religious beliefs.

I think what I said was it's been my experience that persons who strongly profess to religious belief or religious persuasion might be more lenient toward -- might be more forgiving toward a defendant, and might not listen to the evidence as perhaps they should. They may very well tend to be more accepting of a person's professions of innocence in the face of facts to the contrary.....

So, therefore, Judge, Gilmore really does not apply here. Gilmore is really applicable when there is an obvious attempt to exclude jurors of a particular race, a particular religious group. That is not what we had here....

I don't even think [defense counsel] can say with utmost honesty what the ultimate religious composition of the jury was. I certainly can't. I ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.