By Ayanna Gandhi
SACRAMENTO – CA State Senator Scott Wiener (D-SF) re-introduced legislation yesterday that would expand the pool of prospective jurors to include any state tax filers, claiming that it would “ensure that jury pools are more diverse and demographically representative of California’s population.”
This change comes, said Wiener in a press statement, after “[i]n the weeks following the racist police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Californians have responded with renewed calls to examine and overhaul our criminal justice system: from policing, to our legal system, to mass incarceration.”
The measure, SB 592, is, according to the author, “an important piece of the puzzle of how we can remake our criminal justice system to be fairer and less racially and socioeconomically biased.”
Currently, juries are selected using lists of registered voters and licensed drivers or identification card holders. However, these lists are not demographically representative, and thus the jury pool pulled from these lists tend to skew whiter, wealthier, and overall, less diverse than the state,” said Wiener.
He added that to ensure juries—the backbone of our justice system—are actually reflective of their communities, SB 592 would mandate that Jury Commissioners include a broader, more representative list by including all tax filers when establishing jury pools.
Jury Commissioners only pull potential jurors from lists of those who are registered to vote, and those who have driver’s licenses or identification cards. Studies show that by utilizing only these two lists, California courts have deprived of thousands of eligible prospective jurors, and that racial minorities are primarily underrepresented by these lists.
“This underrepresentation denies civil and criminal litigants of a jury pool that truly reflects their communities at large. Using the list of state tax filers will allow the courts to broaden the jury pool, pulling from a more representative list of Californians,” said Wiener.
Sponsors include, the California Public Defenders Association. SB 592 cosponsors include, Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), Senator Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles), Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), Assemblymember Mike Gipson (D-Carson), and Assemblymember Ash Kalra (D-San Jose).
“Trial by jury of one’s peers is fundamental to a fair and non-racist criminal justice system and a representative jury pool is crucial to making that principle a reality. We must change our broken and racist criminal justice system. Our current process for selecting jury pools undermines our ability to ensure people have a jury of their peers. We need to include all Californians on our jury lists, not just those who are registered to vote who have a driver’s license,” said Wiener.
Senator Skinner and Senator Allen emphasize the need for a diverse jury where no one is removed for any reason. Skinner authored SB 310 last year that allows people with prior felony convictions to serve on juries.
“California courts rely on very limited lists for jury selection, and as a result, many residents never get jury service notifications…by adding tax filers, SB 592 expands who is notified to help ensure that juries are diverse and that defendants can truly have a jury of their peers,” Skinner said.
Senator Allen added, “Broadening our jury pools to include all Californians, especially those who are institutionally marginalized, is a simple but essential step to make sure justice reflects the values of our diverse communities.”
Oscar Bobrow, the President of the California Public Defenders Association, agrees, noting, “Broadening the jury pool to obtain a more accurate cross-section of the community strengthens the entire legal system…For juries to speak on behalf of the community, they must fairly reflect that community. We welcome Senator Wiener’s leadership on this critical reform.”
Senator Mitchell argued, “Juries matter and the people sitting on them need to proportionately look like those being accused. The color of your skin should not make you guilty because of a juror’s implicit bias. SB 592: The Fair Juries Act will increase the chances of a jury of ones’ actual peers, and will hopefully chip away at our racially biased judicial system.”
And, Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager maintains, “Diverse and representative jury pools are critical to preserve the right to a fair and impartial jury…Broadening the pool of eligible jurors via AB 592 is a small but necessary step towards justice and equity in our criminal justice system.”
Assemblymember Ash Kalra advocates for the bill and quick implementation. He said, “SB 592 is long overdue and comes at a pivotal time in our history when we as a public body are actively trying to root out systemic failures in our criminal justice system. We have a constitutional right to a jury that is a representation of our community in all of its diversity, and this measure gets us much closer to achieving that right.”
Assemblymember Rob Bonta noted, “Our justice system relies on the ideal of a fair and impartial trial by a jury of one’s peers. But for too long, low-income communities and communities of color have been discriminated against in the jury selection process. We have a responsibility to ensure that our juries reflect all Californians. Justice and democracy prevail only when all communities are accurately and equitably represented – at every level.”
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