Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Wednesday, January 29, 2014


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Bill to Limit Peremptory Challenges Passes State Senate, 21-11


From Staff and Wire Service Reports


The state Senate yesterday approved a bill that would reduce the number of peremptory challenges available in misdemeanor cases.

SB 794, by Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, passed by a preliminary vote of 21-11 and now goes to the Assembly.

Current law allows each party either six or 10 peremptory challenges, depending on whether the maximum sentence for the charged offense exceeds or does not exceed 90 days in jail. SB 794 would cut that to five per side in all misdemeanors.

In addition, in multiple defendant cases, current law allows either five or four additional “strikes” per defendant, while SB 794 would reduce that number to two. Prosecutors will continue to have as many peremptory challenges as all defendants combined.

Such challenges are used “because you don’t like the way somebody looked at you, or you have a hunch,” said Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, herself a former prosecutor who supports the bill. “You can challenge for no good reason at all.”

No Comparable State

No other state allows so many challenges, Evans said. While New York and New Jersey also allow up to 10 challenges by the defense and prosecution, she said only California allows 10 for each defendant.

That can result in dozens of challenges if there are multiple defendants, she said, dragging out jury selection longer than the misdemeanor trial itself. She and Jackson said the bill would save the courts money, streamline misdemeanor trials and result in more diverse juries.

Proponents also argued that fewer challenges would improve potential jurors’ experience because fewer would wait for hours only to be dismissed. They also say the bill will save the courts money by reducing the number of venire members and will allow staff to be redirected to other areas, restoring some of the services that have been eliminated, or are being offered on a reduced basis, due to budget cuts.

They say the bill will also benefit local governments and private companies that pay their employees during jury service

“For many, many years, this Legislature and as well as two governors have really been pressuring the courts to do business in different ways to save money,” Evans said. “This bill is a very small change in the way that the courts administer justice, and yet it reveals the inherent challenges in asking the courts to do things differently — because it is a change, and that’s very difficult for people.”

Leno Votes No

Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, said the change is projected to save the courts $1.2 million each year but said there are better ways to save money. He voted against the bill.

Organizations representing both district attorneys and public defenders oppose the legislation, arguing that peremptory challenges could simply be replaced with challenges for cause with no net savings in time or money.

The California Public Defenders Association calls it “yet another assault on the effective selection of jurors by counsel” that “would work to further erode fairness in our jury system.”

The bill was sought by the California Judges Association and backed by the Judicial Council and a number of trial courts. The Los Angeles Superior Court has not taken a position, according to a committee analysis released last week.

CJA President Rob Glusman, a Butte Superior Court judge, told the MetNews last year that he considers the bill a good start to dealing with the problems associated with prolonged voir dire. He expressed support for reducing the number of challenges in felony cases as well.

The Senate last week approved an amendment to the bill that sets a sunset date of Jan. 1, 2017.


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