(From Press Release) – Senate Bill 310, “The Right to be on a Jury,” by state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, won approval today in the Senate Public Safety Committee on a 5-1 vote. SB 310 would allow Californians who have prior felony convictions to serve on juries. The legislation is designed to expand California’s jury pool so that defendants, particularly those of color, have a better chance of having their criminal cases decided by a jury of their peers.
“SB 310 will help ensure that California juries represent a fair cross-section of our communities,” Skinner said. “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.”
SB 310 also expands California’s jury selection process by broadening the pool from which jurors can be drawn to include lists of state tax filers and utility ratepayers. Currently, the state only requires jury pools to be selected from lists from the Department of Motor Vehicles and county registrars of voters.
Allowing people with felony records to serve on juries would allow hundreds of thousands of Californians to participate as citizens in our criminal justice system, particularly people of color. Current law effectively forbids as many as 30% of African-American men in the state from serving on juries.
SB 310 would allow any Californian with a felony conviction to serve on a jury — as long as they’re not incarcerated in prison or jail. If the legislation becomes law, California would join states like Maine, Colorado, Illinois, and Oregon to enact such a sweeping reform. SB 310 now goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee for a vote.
In testimony today to the Senate Public Safety Committee, Brendon Woods, Alameda County’s Public Defender, noted that defendants of color are often faced with juries in California in which “no one who sits in judgment looks like [them].” Woods also pointed out that allowing people with felony records to serve on juries will help them better reintegrate into society, thereby helping reduce recidivism. “Civic participation is essential toward reintegration into society,” Woods told the committee, adding that SB 310 would “help hundreds of thousands of people in California.”
“This is a civil rights issue,” Skinner added. “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.”