By Josué Monroy
SACRAMENTO – The Fair Juries Act continues to move through the California Legislature, this week passing Assembly Judiciary Committee in an 8-0 vote on its way to the Senate.
Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) sent out a press release, marking this important step forward in the effort to diversify jury selection in California.
“SB 592 would ensure that jury pools are more diverse and demographically representative of California’s population. 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 actually is,” reads Wiener’s the press statement.
Weiner is the main author of the bill, which has existed in various iterations since early 2019. The Fair Juries Act would change the jury selection process by also including any person that has filed state taxes in the past, and not just choosing from those currently in the Department of Motor Vehicles’ database. This would significantly broaden the scope and demographic of Californians participating in the judicial process.
The recent killings of unarmed Black individuals by law enforcement has resulted in months of mass protest and calls for reform across the criminal justice system, leading to legislation like SB 592.
“With the recent deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of the police, we must double down on the fight for racial justice and equity in our criminal justice system. Criminal justice reform efforts must not end with police reform; California must take holistic approach that to change to all broken pieces of the system, including our jury selection process, states the bill,” reads the measure’s text.
“Studies show that by limiting jury pools to voter rolls and people with drivers licenses/I.D. cards, California courts are deprived of a large number of eligible prospective jurors, and that people of color are primarily the ones negatively impacted by underrepresentation. This underrepresentation denies civil and criminal litigants a jury pool that truly reflects their communities at large,” the legislation charges.
The bill has garnered support from The California Public Defenders Association, which is sponsoring it. Co-authors of the bill include Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), Senator Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles), Assembly member Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), Assembly member Mike Gipson (D-Carson), and Assembly member Ash Kalra (D-San Jose).
The bill must now go through the approval process in the Senate and, if passed in a vote, will eventually reach Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk.
Last year, Governor Newsom signed SB 310, the Right to be on a Jury Act, into law. The bill will allow any individual in California with a felony conviction to serve on a jury, as long as they are not currently incarcerated. Maine, Colorado, Illinois, and Oregon had already implemented similar reforms.
If signed into law, SB 592 will be an important supplemental piece in the state’s effort toward judicial reform.
“Juries are a very consequential piece of our justice system,” said Sen. Wiener, adding, “We must do everything in our power to make sure that juries are fair and representative, so that those being accused have a chance to face an actual jury of their peers. We can fight implicit bias on our juries by ensuring that our juries are actually as diverse as our communities. SB 592 is an important piece of the puzzle of how we can remake our criminal justice system to be fairer and less racially and socioeconomically biased.”
To sign up for our new newsletter – Everyday Injustice – https://tinyurl.com/yyultcf9