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California to Permit Former Felons to Serve on Juries

January 15, 2020

The law goes into effect in January 2020.

California to Permit Former Felons to Serve on Juries

In California, individuals who have a felony criminal record are allowed to vote. Yet up until December 31, 2019, those same people could not serve on a jury. A new law will change this inequity, allowing people with felony criminal records to serve on juries.

The law is intended to address racial disparities in the jury selection process. According to 2017 research, 1 in 5 African American men in California are barred from jury service because of a prior felony. As a criminal lawyer in San Bernardino, CA can explain, this can make it incredibly difficult for an African American defendant has a jury of their peers in a criminal case.

Opponents argue that people with felony convictions should not be allowed to serve on juries because they are more likely to be biased against police and prosecutors. The California District Attorneys Association initially opposed the legislation, but withdrew its complaints once an amendment was made to the law that banned registered sex offenders from serving on juries.

Fears about potential bias are likely overblown. For jury trials, potential jurors are selected through a process known as voir dire. At this time, the prosecutor, a criminal lawyer in San Bernardino, CA and the judge can question prospective jurors about their background and possible biases. Lawyers can make what is known as a peremptory challenge to excuse potential jurors from the case without stating a reason. Both the court and attorneys can also dismiss prospective jurors for cause.

The new law will not change this process. While former felons will be part of the jury pool, they will be questioned and asked to complete questionnaires just as any other juror would be. A person who has a felony conviction can be dismissed for cause, such as demonstrating bias in a particular case. However, the fact of a felony conviction does not — by itself — constitute cause to be dismissed from a jury pool.

Having people with a prior felony conviction on a jury will likely help the criminal justice process. Individuals with criminal histories are more likely to understand the seriousness of the case — and what is at stake for the defendant. They may participate more in deliberations and be more careful about paying attention to testimony and evidence presented by both sides. Individuals with bias against the police and/or prosecutors could be screened out through the jury selection process.

The new law should improve both the diversity of California jury pools and the fairness of trials for defendants in criminal cases. By allowing felons to serve on juries, the law will also help people with a criminal history to do their civic duty — and more fully reintegrate into society.

If you have been charged with a crime, you will need an experienced criminal lawyer San Bernardino, CA to represent you. The Chambers Law Firm is dedicated to working with individuals throughout Southern California who have been charged with a criminal offense. Contact us today at 855-397-0210 or dchambers@clfca.com to schedule a free initial consultation with a member of our team.

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