NEWARK, N.J. – The state’s highest court ruled Wednesday that New Jersey
prosecutors cannot bar overtly religious people from serving on juries.
The 6-0 ruling by the state Supreme Court overturned an appellate court
decision and ordered a new trial for Lloyd Fuller, who was convicted in
2000 of armed robbery in Essex County and is serving a 14-year term.
The prosecutor during Fuller’s trial, who was not identified in court
documents, used two of his challenges to exclude a man who said he was a
missionary and another man the attorney believed was Muslim.
The prosecutor argued that religious people would be too sympathetic to the
defense. Fuller appealed, claiming that the juror removals violated his
14th Amendment right to equal protection.
Chief Justice Deborah T. Poritz, writing for the court, said Wednesday that
the prosecutor’s belief that ”demonstrably religious persons are all alike
in sharing defense-minded sympathies” is too broad.
Such a belief ”suggests the very stereotypes that have been used to
justify a blanket exclusion that the law condemns,” she wrote.
Attorney Frank J. Pugliese, who represented Fuller, said the ruling was a
blow against religious discrimination. ”Obviously, the court has
established for the first time that prospective jurors cannot be excluded
based on their religion,” he said.
During jury selection in Fuller’s trial, the prosecutor excused a white man
who said he was a missionary and a black man wearing a long black garment
and a skull cap. Neither juror was asked about his religious beliefs