A Step Backward for Justice Reform

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi
San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi

By Jeff Adachi

Setting policy is a lot like making sausage: We want to see the cleanly packaged result rather than the gory process.

But last week, Gov. Jerry Brown did something so undemocratic, we can’t look away. He slipped a last-minute bill into the state budget that has been rejected numerous times.

Senate Bill 843, a budget trailer bill to be voted on Thursday, would cut the number of peremptory challenges in misdemeanor trials from 10 to six. Peremptory challenges allow attorneys to dismiss jurors without giving a reason. Both prosecutors and defense attorneys oppose the bill, because it undermines our ability to weed out jurors we suspect, but cannot prove, are biased.

Here are five reasons why Californians should care:

1. Adding the measure as a last-minute budget item circumvents the will of the people and their elected representatives. A similar bill failed to pass in 2014 and again in 2015. In both cases, the author pulled the proposed legislation due to lack of support.

2. The governor’s proposal threatens the Sixth Amendment right to an unbiased jury. This will disproportionately hurt African American and Latino defendants, who are already overrepresented in our prisons and jails. When the nation is focused on addressing racism in our criminal justice system, this proposal is a step backward. To try to take away this right without discussion in a policy committee is a slap in the face.

3. Some California judges are behind the push to cut peremptory challenges, saying it will save time and money. But not all judges agree. “There is no study that shows such a reduction will save time or money,” says Judge Runston Maino of San Diego County. “Should not judges make decisions on facts and not on unfounded opinions?”

Meanwhile, Brown is ignoring the voices of prosecutors, who speak for crime victims, and public defenders, who stand up for the rights of the poor and disenfranchised.

4. A fundamental constitutional protection is at stake, so this is no time for snap decisions. Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, says he doesn’t know whether the proposal is good or bad for his constituents, because he hasn’t had time to study the issue. If the bill passes Thursday, he never will.

5. The right to an unbiased jury is the heart of our justice system, not the fat to be trimmed. Passing the bill in this manner allows the governor to prioritize the wishes of a few judges over the rights of millions of Californians.

Jeff Adachi is the public defender in San Francisco.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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18 Comments

  1. Marina Kalugin

    this gov is not who he used to be….he is not the “caring, democratic” gov of the olden days…

    this is yet another example…

    bringing in the Napo to “clean house at UC” is another…

    his gang of two  err….committee of two with the Napo in 2014  to overthrow the UC pension plan is a third….the state had not paid a cent for more than 2 decades on the UC faculty/staff pensions….

    and so on.

    the twin tunnels are another….for someone who claims to be “for the environment” really?

    not sure what happened to him over the years, but really?

     

     

  2. Marina Kalugin

    as happens ad infinitum in history the oppressed become the oppressors….the democrats the republicans and back and forth…

    and, unfortunately, money always talks…follow the money…

      1. South of Davis

        > where is the money that’s talking on this?

        Both prosecutors and defense attorneys get paid more (and get to hire more friends) if cases take longer (and get paid even more for appeals if a jury of all white skinheads lets a guilty skinhead off and the case goes to trial again)…

  3. South of Davis

    Jeff Adachi wrote:

    > Here are five reasons why Californians should care:

    > 1. …last-minute budget item circumvents the will of the people

    Jeff must have Tia’s ability to know what people think and can tell us “the will of the people”…

    > 2.  … This will disproportionately hurt African American

    > and Latino defendants,

    Jeff is unhappy that it will be harder to get an “OJ Jury” (that was 75% black) who hate the cops and let the guilty go free.

    > 3. “There is no study that shows such a reduction will

    > save time or money,”

    Yet when there is a “study” it will show a savings of both time and money.

    > 4. A fundamental constitutional protection is at stake,

    I may have missed the line in the “constitution” that says attorneys get to kick 10 (not just 6) jurors off the jury for no reason at all.

    > 5. The right to an unbiased jury is the heart of our justice

    > system, not the fat to be trimmed.

    True, but kicking people off for “no reason” does not give an “unbiased” jury but results in a “biased” one…

    P.S. I have no problem with kicking off an unlimited number of jurors if either side comes up with a “reason” they may be biased.

  4. The Pugilist

    “Jeff is unhappy that it will be harder to get an “OJ Jury” (that was 75% black) who hate the cops and let the guilty go free.”

    The other side of this is that DA’s would have less opportunity to remove black jurors.  That’s actually a far more likely scenario.  But the bigger issue is the inability to remove people who are likely to vote for guilt regardless – neither side wants to leave that to chance.  Since you’ve never had to select a jury, perhaps you should defer to the professionals since you’re other theory (money) is completely bs.

      1. The Pugilist

        Hard to know.  I’ve only practiced law in California.  Also I’m not sure that limiting preremptory challenges saves time.  It might force attorneys to have to go for dismissal by cause more often which is a longer process.

  5. Marina Kalugin

    not long ago, someone I know was on a jury….was honest and all…but was one of the last 2 sitting in the stands after many were “released”…..guess what….the jury was 11-1….

    my family has had many instances where there was blatant police evidence tampering and so on….this person said the cops “couldn’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt”……..

    we also have law enforcement persons in our family…

    but from personal experiences, if the only thing that they have is reports by the cops et al, no way would that ever be good enough for me personally to convict someone… I am truly jaded after what I saw and have lived through….

    “witnesses” also are wrong a high percentage of time…  the prisons are full of people who were there on a “mistake” and many prisoners have also been killed only to be exonerated posthumously…

    and yeah, do your own google searches….not sure what the percentages are, but even 1 is too many…

     

     

     

  6. Marina Kalugin

    most of our faculty and other more highly educated persons are summarily dismissed once they give their “occupation”  – there are only a handful who continue to be chosen regularly…..

    it is my observation, that both sides try to choose those who they think could be better manipulated…typically the more educated are not as easily manipulated….

    and, yes, the defense attorney are private pay…and hourly….often they have a vested interest in dragging out cases… …  not always, but the “guiltier” the person, the more likely the longer it will be dragged out.

     

     

    1. Matt Williams

      In one of my two jury duty calls (in 16 years, go figure) I was dismissed by the prosecutor as one of his without cause dismissals.  I definitely got the feeling at the time that he was looking for a less educated/informed jury.

  7. Jerry Waszczuk

    “Budget trailer bill to be voted on Thursday, would cut the number of peremptory challenges in misdemeanor trials from 10 to six. ” 

    Why the number of peremptory challenges has to be 10 not 6 ?   The California Justice System is grossly  underfunded , I see this problem when I go to the  Sacramento County Superior Court to file motion or other legal documents. Only one intake window is open instead of six due to budget constrain.  Drop Box is  a  mandatory option  for many legal documents to file and if you make an mistake than filed document would be returned to you after one or two weeks  for correction  . At the  intake widow the  clerk will tell you that you made a  mistake . Chief Justice website has lot of information about budget cut for California Courts .

    California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye says “crisis issues” such as domestic violence, landlord-tenant matters and child custody cases are suffering badly statewide due to lack of funding.

    “Everyone expects courts to be there when they need them,” she said. “When you need us, you need us desperately and immediately.”

    Advocates for more court funding point to a 2011 study showing courts have failed victims ever since budget cuts that began with the recession. It documented a man’s fight against eviction that took so long he died before he could return to his home. It also cited the case of an abused San Diego woman who slept in her car outside a courthouse to get a restraining order because she couldn’t get a hearing due to reduced court hours.

    Business disputes go unresolved, the report said, and victims of fraudulent foreclosures are unable to get into court.

    Judge Rosenberg confirmed that court services have suffered in Yolo County too.”
    http://www.dailydemocrat.com/general-news/20130122/judges-say-state-courts-under-siege-from-cuts-but-yolo-bucks-trend
    Today is not better that it was in 2011

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