Senate Committee Approves Bill to Strengthen Voir Dire to Better Identify Bias in Prospective Jurors

Senator Wiener’s SB 658 will prevent judges from limiting voir dire by setting arbitrary time restrictions or restrictions on types of question
May 2, 2017

Sacramento –  Today the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) that will help create more impartial juries by better identifying bias in the civil jury selection process. SB 658 will prevent unreasonable and arbitrary restrictions during voir dire by requiring judges to consider specific factors when setting time limits and types of questions.  SB 658 is sponsored by the Consumer Attorneys of California and supported by the American Civil Liberties Union.

SB 658 was approved by the Judiciary Committee by a TKKTKT vote with Senators TKTKTK in support. 

“Fair and impartial juries are at the heart of the American legal system,” said Senator Wiener. “As a former trial attorney, I know how hard it can be to identify bias in prospective jurors with the limited tools we have. SB 658 will help attorneys on all sides to recognize bias, which will make for better juries, and more fair trials.” 

Voir dire, the preliminary examination of jurors, is guaranteed under both the U.S. and California constitutions. However, attorneys have reported arbitrary restrictions have been placed on voir dire, including setting limits of only 30 minutes for voir dire in some civil trials. SB 658 will address this by requiring judges to consider the following factors when determining time limits and the types of questions allowed during voir dire:

  1. Any unique or complex legal or factual elements of the case
  2. The anticipated length of trial
  3. The number of parties
  4. The number of witnesses
  5. Whether the case is designated as complex or long cause

“Juries are the bedrock of our justice system in its role as a cornerstone of our democracy,” said Nancy Drabble, CEO and chief lobbyist of Consumer Attorneys of California. “This bill will ensure that the jury selection process is transparent and yields fair and impartial panels that will ensure justice is properly served.”

SB 658 next moves to the Senate Floor for a vote by the full Senate.