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Juror Challenges Gain Transparency Under Bill OK’d in California

Sept. 1, 2020, 7:14 AM

California would strengthen jury selection procedures and increase transparency to ensure attorney challenges to exclude jurors are done for nondiscriminatory purposes under a measure approved by the Legislature and now headed to the desk of Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The bill (A.B. 3070) is one of several the Legislature debated this session in the wake of George Floyd’s death while in Minneapolis police custody.

The California District Attorneys Association and the California State Sheriffs’ Association opposed the bill that requires judges to evaluate the reasons given to justify the peremptory challenge or the use of a challenge for cause. Judges’ groups and the California Judicial Council dropped their objections to the bill.

The Assembly voted Monday to OK amendments made in the Senate, which approved the bill earlier in the evening. The Senate initially rejected the bill Aug. 30 and granted it reconsideration.

Opponents, including state Senate Judiciary Chairwoman Hannah-Beth Jackson (D), urged that any legislation defer to the California Supreme Court’s jury selection working group seated in July to study impermissible discrimination. The American Civil Liberties Union, the California Innocence Project, and the California Public Defenders Association support the bill.

The California legislation comes nearly 35 years after the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Batson v. Kentucky outlawed the use of peremptory strikes on racial grounds. The decision allowed judges to consider only purposeful discrimination in the use of those challenges. It later extended Batson to strikes based on ethnicity or gender.

The bill also could have an “unknown, potentially-significant workload cost pressures to the courts to hear and decide objections,” requiring hearings that could put pressure on the state’s budget to hire additional court staff, a Senate Appropriations Committee analysis said.

The bill would be effective for jury selection that begins after Jan. 1, 2022, and civil cases by Jan. 1, 2026, if signed by Newsom (D). He has until Sept. 30 to act.

Also heading to Newsom is a bill (A.B. 2542), the California Racial Justice Act, that would prohibit the state from seeking or upholding a conviction or sentence that is discriminatory based on race, ethnicity, or national origin. Judges would be able to alter the individual’s sentence. The Senate passed the bill on Monday with the Assembly concurring earlier in the day.

To contact the reporter on this story: Joyce E. Cutler in San Francisco at jcutler@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Seth Stern at sstern@bloomberglaw.com; Katherine Rizzo at krizzo@bgov.com; John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com

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