Supreme Court Will Review State v. Morgan “Jury Homework” Case

In State v. Morgan, 423 N.J. Super. 453 (App. Div. 2011), discussed here, the Appellate Division ruled that it was not improper to permit jurors to take their written jury instructions home over the weekend, for further study, provided that trial judges caution the jurors not to do further research or discuss the case with others while away from the jury room.  The trial judge in this case had that discussion about “jury homework” with the jury outside the presence of the attorneys.  The Appellate Division criticized this “ex parte” communication between the judge and the jurors, but found no basis to reverse defendant’s conviction since that communication, and another ex parte discussion between the judge and the jury, did not involve “the substance of the jury’s function.”

The Supreme Court has now granted review of the Appellate Division’s ruling.  The question presented, as phrased by the Supreme Court Clerk’s Office (which inadvertently listed the case as “State v. Moran“) is “Did the trial court err by engaging in ex parte communication with the deliberating jury and in permitting the jurors to take written instructions home with them to review over the weekend?”