In the State of California, a felony conviction results in a lifetime ban from jury duty. This penalty cannot be restored. Or can it?
A bill by Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) would allow convicted felons to serve on a jury.
“People with felony records have the right to vote in California. There is no legitimate reason why they should be barred from serving on a jury,” says Sen. Skinner. Allowing felons to vote is a new “right,” restored by Democrats in the California Legislature, under AB2466, authored by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2016.
Skinner is the author of SB 310, a bill to permit a person with a felony conviction, who is not incarcerated in prison or jail, to serve on a jury.
Once convicted felons have paid their debt, “they have a legitimate right to vote,” Skinner said. However, incarceration is not the only punishment convicted felons must ride out – the loss of certain rights and privileges is another consequence of their convictions.
Skinner said “excluding felons from jury service has a disproportionate impact on African Americans, specifically African American men, given their overrepresentation in the criminal justice system.” Specifically, Skinner said 30 percent of black men in California are currently banned from serving on a jury because of a felony conviction. “My bill would lift this ban,” Skinner said in the Senate Tuesday.
By law, a jury must represent a cross section of the population in a community in order to ensure that a defendant is afforded his or her constitutional right to an impartial jury, Skinner said. Therefore, by Skinner’s logic, allowing felons to serve on a jury is more representative of a cross-section of society and “a jury of our peers.”
Among the historical justifications going back to the founding of the country justifying excluding felons from jury service, is the belief that these individuals lack character and harbor an inherent bias.
“This is a civil rights issue,” Skinner said in a committee hearing. “Unfortunately, our criminal justice system has historically targeted Black and Brown people in disproportionate numbers. Making our juries more diverse is a step in the right direction to fixing this historic wrong.”
SB 310 passed the Senate on party lines.
Sponsors and supporters of SB 310 include:
A New Way of Life Re-entry Project (co-source)
All of Us of None (co-source)
American Civil Liberties Union of California (co-source)
California Public Defender’s Association (co-source)
Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (co-source)
California Employment Lawyers Association
Californians United for a Responsible Budget
East Bay Community Law Center
Ella Baker Center for Human Rights
Fair Chance Project
Friends Committee on Legislation of California
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Root and Rebound
San Francisco Public Defender’s Office
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