Gov. Gavin Newsom today signed into law Senate Bill 310, also known as “The Right to a Jury of Your Peers,” by state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley. SB 310 allows people with a prior felony conviction to serve on juries in California for the first time. 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,” Skinner said. “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.”
The state Assembly approved SB 310 on a 47-26 vote, and the Senate gave its final OK on a 29-10 vote. The new law takes effect Jan. 1, 2020.
Under SB 310, California will join with more than 20 other states that allow people with prior felony convictions to serve on juries. Colorado, Illinois, Maine, and Oregon allow people to serve without restrictions. Under the new California law, unless they are on parole or probation or a registered felony sex offender, persons with a prior felony conviction will be eligible to serve on a jury. With the signing of SB 310, California leaves Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma as the only states with lifetime bans for people with felony convictions from ever serving on a jury.
California law already allows people with a prior felony conviction to vote. The signing of SB 310 puts jury service rights on par with California’s voting rights.
SB 310 also does not interfere with the ability of prosecutors, public defenders, and judges to reject jurors based on their assessment of suitability. And it does not prohibit the use of a preemptory challenge to remove a prospective juror from the jury pool.
“As a Black man and public defender, I have witnessed firsthand the damage caused by the systemic exclusion of people with felony convictions from jury service,” said Alameda County Public Defender Brendon Woods, who testified at the Capitol in favor of SB 310. “This bill is a historic step toward achieving racial equity in California. Finally, we are closer to getting juries of our peers, but there is still more work to accomplish. With SB 310, we will no longer have a jury system that shuts the door on many Californians. I can now tell my Black clients that their peers will not be excluded from serving because of something that has occurred in their past. We’re grateful to Gov. Newsom, Sen. Skinner, and everyone who worked hard to pass this bill.”
Sen. Nancy Skinner represents the 9th Senate District. She is also chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee and the Public Safety Budget Committee.