California's New Jury Reform Laws
In October of 2020, the California legislature enacted jury reform laws that will take effect on January 1, 2022. Two notable pieces of jury reform legislation are SB 592 and AB 3070. Juries are obviously extremely important to our justice system because they will ultimately decide the fate of a defendant or a Plaintiff. The new laws are intended to make juries a more accurate and inclusive representation of the population.
SB 592 was enacted to increase the jury pool by including the list of resident state tax filers as an appropriate source list for the pool of prospective jurors. California currently uses the list of registered voters and the Department of Motor Vehicles' list of licensed drivers and identification cardholders as their sources for juror selection. Adding the list of resident state tax filers is expected to add millions of names to the prospective jury pool thus making the pool of juries more representative of the population.
AB 3070 was passed to create an effective procedure that would eliminate the unfair exclusion of potential jurors based on race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, or religious affiliation, or perceived membership in any of those groups, through the exercise of peremptory challenges. A peremptory challenge to exclude a juror must be based on sufficiently neutral grounds to be permitted. To address what constitutes a sufficiently neutral ground to exclude a juror from service, AB 3070 identifies the following reasons for exclusion as presumptively invalid, because of the frequency with which they have been offered in support of striking jurors of color.
- Expressing a distrust of or having a negative experience with law enforcement or the criminal legal system.
- Expressing a belief that law enforcement officers engage in racial profiling or that criminal laws have been enforced in a discriminatory manner.
- Having a close relationship with people who have been stopped, arrested, or convicted of a crime.
- A prospective juror's neighborhood.
- Having a child outside of marriage.
- Receiving state benefits.
- Not being a native English speaker.
- The ability to speak another language.
- Dress, attire, or personal appearance.
- Employment in a field that is disproportionately occupied by or that disproportionately serves members who are or are perceived to be members of a particular race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, or religious affiliation.
- Lack of employment or underemployment of the prospective juror or prospective juror's family member.
- A prospective juror's apparent friendliness with another prospective juror who is or perceived to be a member of a particular race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, or religious affiliation.
This law will affect criminal trials starting on January 1, 2022, and in civil trials on January 1, 2026.
These new laws are important going forward because they will influence and shape future juries who will have the power to determine the guilt of defendants. For attorneys to best serve their clients at trial, they must be able to identify and include jurors who can be fair and impartial while excluding prospective jurors who are likely to be unfair and biased against a particular party or the entire criminal justice system. An attorney who is skilled in voir dire (the jury selection process) will be able to effectively sort through a larger jury pool and challenge improper peremptory challenges to give their client the fairest and impartial jury at their trial possible.