The news that Californians with a felony criminal record are permanently barred from jury service probably comes as little shock. Many states have restrictions for felons, owning firearms and voting to name two, so it’s not a stretch to think that such people would also lose the right to be a juror.
In 31 states and Federal courts, laws exclude felons from participating in the adjudicative process, according to the American University Law Review. The United States Supreme Court does not recognize the right to sit on a jury as fundamental.
A perplexing thing to consider in states with felon jury exclusion is that most, including California, permit felons to practice law. Such lawyers can defend or prosecute offenders, but they cannot sit in a jury box. Currently, 29 states and the Federal legal system allow felons to be admitted to the bar and practice law. It’s understandable that many attorneys would take issue with being deemed fit to practice law but not be able to sit on a jury. One such attorney wrote an interesting op-ed on the subject recently.
Felon Jury Exclusion
Attorney Dr. James Binnall, a professor in the School of Criminology, Criminal Justice & Emergency Management at Long Beach State University, writing in The Orange County Register, begins his piece by recounting the experience of learning that, while he was summoned for jury selection, he would be barred from participation. Since 2008, Binnall has been a practicing criminal defense attorney in California, despite having a felony DUI homicide on his record.
“I can represent a defendant in a death penalty case, but cannot sit on a jury in a minor traffic accident or breach of contract case,” says Binnall. “And I am not alone.”
In his op-ed, Binnall asks some thought-provoking questions and cites research that invalidates the justifications courts, and lawmakers, give for record-based juror exclusion. Dr. Binnall points to research showing that felons both respect the legal process and impartially review case facts. Studies also show that criminals are no more biased than average citizens.
He points out that 19 million Americans have felony-records. As many as 12 percent of adult African-Americans have spent time in California prisons; nationally, one in three African-American men have a felony conviction. With that in mind, it’s hard not to ignore how such rules serve to “racially homogenize” jury pools. Binnall asks:
“Is that a true cross-section of our community?”
Orange County Criminal Defense
Please contact the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower if you are facing criminal charges. We know that you will benefit from Attorney Brower’s extensive legal experience; he has practiced law in California, participating in many high-profile cases, for more than 30 years.