Individuals of New York State are not eligible to serve on a jury after a felony conviction. However, that may be changing as Bill S09194 approaches a vote in the Senate. This Bill proposes that individuals with a felony conviction who have finished their sentence and reintegrated into society would be allowed to serve on a jury.
Currently, 28 states permanently bar felons from serving on a jury. Another 21 states restrict jury duty privileges until the completion of the individual's sentence, including parole and probation. Only two other states have passed similar legislation to the bill up for vote in New York, Colorado and Maine, who allow all individuals with or without post-felony convictions to participate in jury duty. A handful of states, including New York, do have systems that allow for felons to receive special permission to serve on a jury, but the system is often difficult and complex to navigate. This bill would level the playing field and give back civic rights to those who have been denied, even after paying their debts to society.
The bill is sponsored by Sen. Brian Benjamin who states, “If a person has completed the sentence for a felony, that person should be considered rehabilitated and given the opportunity for full rights of citizenship.” On the contrary Republican spokesman, Scott Reif, states that allowing former criminals to sit on a jury would be “tilting the criminal justice systems away from innocent victims and their families.”
A common belief shared by the public is that an individual who has been convicted of a crime would not be suitable to serve on a jury due to their potentially jaded perspective of our justice system. Studies reveal that this is often not the case and those past convicts do not exhibit any more biases than the average person. Instead, trends show that the individual is happy at the opportunity to participate in society on a jury.
Another argument also points out that the current laws barring felons from sitting on a jury restrict diversity and equality despite the fact that statistically 33.3% of African American males are estimated to have felony convictions.
This is a significant bill that could impact the entire nation. A large and diverse state like New York considering reform may spark other states to do the same.
Our New York City attorneys will continue to follow this news and provide you with updates as they occur. Keep checking back on our blog to learn more! And, if you need legal representation, do not hesitate to call us for a free, confidential consultation: (212) 566-1000. We can also be reached online by submitting a contact form.