The title of this interview could easily be: “When smart people disagree.” A quick introduction of Senator Marty Block is below. (You can tweet to Senator Block, here.) Senator Block’s Facebook page is here.
The following interview features California Senator Marty Block, who introduced Senate Bill 213 – a bill that would in Criminal misdemeanor jury trials, reduce the number of peremptory challenges from 10 to six, in order to streamline justice.
Senator Block’s position is reducing the number of peremptory challenges in misdemeanor trials, means less time for jurors to be away from their business, as well less costs to the state and law enforcement. I thank Senator Block for his time, and I thank Maria Lopez, for facilitating the interview. I also thank attorneys, Frank Birchak, Director of Training for the Public Defenders office; San Diego criminal defense attorney, Knut Johnson, and former California State Bar President, Jim Heiting.
Background, reasons for, and those in support of SB 213
The duration of misdemeanor trials – reasons for support
The police – and the meat of the matter – civil rights of defendants. Gets interesting at the 1:20 mark.
THOSE OPPOSED ADD CLARIFICATIONS
Frank Birchak, Director of Training, Public Defenders Office, responds.
There is no statute the police officer must remain in court.
Often times a lead officer might be on-hand, but it depends on how long they expect jury selection to take and how the prosecutor sets things up with the different agencies involved.
San Diego criminal Defense attorney Knut Johnson checked in with reasons against.
“This bill would undermine the integrity of California’s jury system, which is why Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey opposed this bill. I oppose this bill to reduce preempts in misdemeanor trials to six because:
- With the transfer of almost half the felony case load to misdemeanors via Prop 47, there will a far more serious misdemeanors going to trial.
- Some misdemeanors carry life time sex registration. That’s worthy of all the challenges you can get. Other misdemeanors carry other draconian consequences, e.g., licensing for professionals, deportation (even for lawful permanent residents).
- Police, in my experience, do not sit around during jury selection. Good prosecutors tell their witnesses to appear after jury selection finishes. This is a solution in search of a problem.
- This is yet another attempt to reduce the right of citizens to a jury trial when the government accuses them of crime.
- This will disproportionately affect poor, African American, Latino, and other minority defendants. Despite California being an ethnically diverse state a jury of one’s peers is a rarity. Because juries continue to be overwhelmingly white and more affluent due to racial and economic disparities that affect who is eligible for jury service and who can afford the financial hardship.
- Reducing the number of peremptory challenges may make jury selection longer, as attorneys will need to file more time-consuming “for cause” challenges, requiring lengthy examination of prospective jurors.
This bill is a terrible idea.”
(Seems to be some misconceptions regarding attorney fees at the 1:30 mark)
Former California State Bar President James O. Heiting always great on “overviews” also offered a few thoughts. I asked Jim to check in, remembering Jim once made national legal news in an article titled,
“Voir Dire as a Contact Sport”
after convincing a judge in a bifurcated civil trial, to dismiss the entire jury…for prejudice after the first phase of a trial.
“Jury selection is probably the hardest part of any case. Prospective jury members are more and more biased and prejudiced by television, movies, publicity, and hype from talking heads. Every safeguard must be maintained to be able to select the fairest and most appropriate jury. Suitable and fair-minded jurors are not as common as we would hope; and the ability to cull out the potential jurors who will probably not be fair to your client (prosecution or defense) is an absolute necessity. “For cause” challenges are not easily granted in many courtrooms, the judges many times trying to rehabilitate the juror and to avoid disqualifying the person, even though the person is obviously biased and a bad choice as an ultimate juror. Peremptory challenges are the only way to balance the scales (and even then sometimes not adequately), and every peremptory is valuable and necessary to achieving whatever justice we can.”
Again, I thank Senator Block for his time, the renown Maria Lopez, for her super efficient skill set in facilitating the interview, and Frank Birchak, Knut Johnson and Jim Heiting for their prompt attention to educating us all regarding Senate Bill 213.