SB 310, the bill which restores jury duty rights to most formerly incarcerated people convicted under a felony, was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday.
The new law, while granting the right to serve on a jury, also includes limits on which ex-felons can serve. Those still prohibited include people currently incarcerated in prison, felons currently on parole, those under post-release community supervision, those under probation for a felony, and registered sex offenders who received a felony conviction.
Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) introduced the bill earlier this year. Senator Skinner has backed the bill because of the injustice she saw of having large percentages of minority groups being unable to serve on a jury because of a prior felony conviction. In a recent press release, she cited the figure being as high as 30% for African-American men. Senator Skinner has also said that there is “no legitimate reason” that should bar them from jury service after being released.
“Governor Newsom today signed my bill SB 310, The Right to a Jury of Your Peers,” said Senator Skinner Monday. “The new law allows people with a prior felony conviction to serve on juries in California.
“It will also help ensure that the fundamental right to a jury of your peers applies to all defendants.”
“It’s easy to take for granted the notion of a jury of your peers, but in reality, if you’re Black and a man, it’s almost impossible. Why? Existing law excludes 30% of California’s Black male residents from ever serving on a jury. SB 310 rights that wrong by giving those with a former felony conviction the ability to be at the heart of a fair and impartial judicial process.”
Human rights groups and minority organizations also approved of the bills signing.
The bill had, and still has, a large number of people against it. Numerous district attorneys, police organizations, and community groups spoke out against the new law. Reasons most of the organizations and people cited included those having a felony being inherently biased against those prosecuting in felony trials and having the right to perform civic duties needing to be permanently taken away as a detriment to those thinking about doing a felony level crime in the first place.
“In jury selection we can excuse a certain number of jurors,” said Michael Garland, a lawyer based in Los Angeles. “This bill is going to make this process more tricky because there will be many lawyers gunning for them on a jury, and I guarantee you it will come up with every black man during jury selection.”
“And no matter the ex-felon, their experience will shape their decision. And that means generally being in favor lighter convictions, or not trusting police testimony, or wanting to get back at the system. We’ve seen complaints from lawyers in other states along these lines where they allow ex-felons to serve on juries.”
“A prosecutor out East actually told me that a juror had come up to her after a case and told her, to her face, that the only reason he voted innocent was because he had been screwed over by a prosecutor before and this was, I don’t know, revenge against the system.’
“That’s not fair or impartial. But, once you run out of your number of excuses, you can get jury members you never talked to. And with ex-felons in the mix now, again, we need to be more vigilant. At the very least.”
The gap between the two sides for and against the bill was especially noticeable in Sacramento. SB 310 barely passed Senate and Assembly voting, where they respectively had close 29-10 and 47-26 final tallies.
After the signing on Monday, only 4 states, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma, still have lifetime bans for ex-felons from serving on a jury.