Senator Wiener Announces Bill to Ensure Jury Pools Reflect Diversity of Community

March 5, 2017

Today Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) announced the introduction of a bill that will reform the jury selection process to create a more equitable justice system. Senate Bill 576 will require that demographic data be gathered from all who report for jury duty to ensure that California’s juries are being selected from a representative cross-section of the community. Without this data, there is no way to evaluate the racial and ethnic diversity of jury selection pools. SB 576 is sponsored by the California Public Defenders Association, including San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi.

“The right to a fair jury trial is one of the pillars of our justice system, and this bill will ensure our jury selection process is delivering on that fundamental democratic promise,” said Senator Wiener. “Juries should represent the diverse communities they are drawn from, but right now we have no way of knowing if those showing up for jury duty are an accurate representation of these communities. By collecting demographic information, we can analyze our jury pools in order to determine if our current system is working. SB 576 will help us to achieve more balanced and equitable juries.”

Currently, Jury Commissioners draw prospective jurors from two lists: the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and the registrar of voters (ROV).  These two lists have been deemed to be race neutral by the courts. However, there is no data to track the results of the California jury selection process.

SB 576 will require that jury commissioners collect demographic data by having prospective juror’s answer a short questionnaire detailing the juror’s race, gender, ethnicity, national origin and zip code of residence. This data will be anonymized and used for analysis purpose. This demographic data can be used to determine whether the pool of prospective jurors summoned accurately reflects the population of the area from which the jurors are summoned.

“Requiring jury commissioners to collect demographic data of the jurors who appear for service enables California trial courts to ensure that the right to a fair trial is being protected. Without this information courts are unable to know if they are conducting fair trials and whether they should be taking additional steps to protect the fairness and integrity of our jury system,” said Oscar Bobrow, Solano County Chief Deputy Public Defender and California Public Defender Association Board Member. “The California Public Defenders Association has had repeated complaints for several decades from countless numbers of criminal defense attorneys in our organization that the current system of summoning jurors based solely upon DMV and registered voters lists results in the underrepresentation of minority residents on juries in communities throughout this state.  Many empirical studies by social scientist have confirmed this. This legislation is a first step toward identifying and correcting this problem.”

“Senator Wiener’s bill will provide badly needed transparency in the demographics and diversity of jurors called to serve on trials,” said San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi. “In San Francisco, where we’ve seen African American jurors disappear from jury panels, we need to see whether this exclusion is systematic or not. This bill will provide means to obtain this critical information.”