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California is about to allow former felons to serve on juries (calmatters.org)
142 points by jelliclesfarm 9 months ago | hide | past | web | 158 comments | favorite

I've served on a jury in CA and have seen jury selection on a couple occasions. Based on what I've seen, I think it will remain highly unlikely that a convicted felon will make their way onto a jury of a criminal trial (civil trials might be more likely).

In the standard questionnaire that prospective jurors are given, they are asked if they or members of their immediate family have been victims of a crime, or if they work in law enforcement. Now that felons will be part of the jury pool, they will undoubtedly also ask if they have been convicted of a crime themselves.

In my experience, judges will themselves excuse jurors who have family in law enforcement (parent, spouse, sibling), which means the lawyers don't have to bother using a challenge on it. I would expect the same will happen with many/most criminal convictions, especially when they are related to the crime that is alleged.

And even when they are unrelated, I expect the prosecutor would dig in and ask questions like "have your feelings about respect for the law changed since you were convicted of embezzlement?" — even if it's an assault trial. These questions will be uncomfortable for the potential jurors, who may feel like they're being humiliated and put on trial all over again. I would not want to be a felon being questioned for jury selection by a prosecutor.

note: my experience is in San Mateo county jury selection as a private citizen. I am also a former lawyer, and almost all of my lawyer friends have never made it past jury selection. I served once, only because I emphasized that I practiced tax law, which is very different from criminal law.

I think it's kind of random. Last time I was on jury selection, the defendant, a black man, was accused of robbing a bank at gunpoint.

The woman being questioned for jury duty was asked about being a victim of crime. She said, "I've been a bank teller for over 20 years. I've been robbed at gunpoint three times, and every time it was a black man. Black men are always guilty".

I was shocked she would say such a thing, but even more shocked to see her back the next day. She wasn't dismissed.

There is a good chance she used an explicit statement like that to get herself dismissed from the jury pool.

Perhaps the lawyer thought the blatent racism would shock the other jurors and make them more likely to "overcorrect"/compensate and be lienent or find the defendant not guilty (IDK facts of the case).

And whoever was in charge of ensuring an unbiased jury was willing to take that chance?

They pick jurors trying to guess who will go their way or help rally other jurors. Nothing to do with removing bias, if anything they want bias the direction that suits them.

Each side has no goal to remove bias, but I think the overall process does. By allowing each side to exclude some people, the most biased outliers will likely be removed, and more middle of the road people will remain.

in that case they probably found it endearing

The jury system seems completely corrupt to me. I am glad we do not use this method in criminal trials here in Germany where I live.

I used to have a very low opinion of the jury system. I can’t imagine how a system designed to be swayed by emotional or ignorant but opinionated people would look any different from what we already have.

After I served on a jury, I had to admit that, whatever its faults, there is some value to occasionally explaining the law to random citizens and asking them to apply it in a given case. It should put a limit on how weird or explicitly unfair the law can be. To be honest, it’s not much of a limit. Several words already have a different legal meaning than their everyday meaning (e.g., in copyright law, “to copy” includes activities that don’t end with an identical copy of the protected work). But there is some limit.

> It should put a limit on how weird or explicitly unfair the law can be.

The defense isn't allowed to tell jurors about jury nullification and there's an effort to keep out any potential jurors who are aware of it. In general there seems to be a big effort to not have jurors think to much on their own. Once during selection I mentioned how unreliable eye witness testimony can be (they were trying to weed out anyone who had problems with convicting based solely on eye witness testimony), and the prosecutor asked me "What if the judge told you to give eye witness testimony the same weight as physical evidence?"

I often see people worry that if we didn't have trial by jury a lot more innocent people would get convicted. Yet if you look at a country like Germany, it doesn't have trial by jury and it has ~1/9 the incarceration rate as the USA.

The incarceration rate is irrelevant to your argument, because it depends on both the base rate of criminality and the conviction rate.

The conviction rate is what you're looking for, and consulting Table 5 and Table 6 of this document:


We see that Germany has a higher conviction rate than the US.

What we'd really like to see is the rate of false conviction, but this is difficult to determine, for obvious reasons.

I've had to sit in the room more than once waiting to see if any trials wanted to actually select a jury. There were only two times when I was in the room while the jury was selected. Once, when they filled up the jury before they asked me anything, and the other time when I was actually put on the jury.

I think it's very telling that the first time, the prosecutor kept asking if people would apply the law as written, and not how they would prefer it to be written. I didn't think I could answer that question without hearing the details, but she refused to provide them (she never got to me, so I never had to answer). It turned out that an inmate was caught with some drugs inside a prison, and she was charged with possession of the drugs, and possession of drug paraphernalia (the paraphernalia being a plastic bag the drugs had been kept in).

The second time, the judge asked if anybody had served on a jury before, and those who answered "yes" were asked if anything happened during that service that shook their confidence in the system. They were specifically cautioned to not go into details so that the rest of us wouldn't be tainted.

Both of those experiences feel like huge red flags for the system in general. But, again, I have to acknowledge there does seem to be some value in including regular citizens. I'm not sure if that value outweighs the negatives. But, it's an explicitly guaranteed Constitutional right in the US, so without an amendment, it isn't going away.

For the record, in the US, if you'd rather take your chances with just the judge, you can waive your right to a jury. But most people accused of crimes seem to believe the jury is a better bet.

The whole point of the jury is determining whether or not these laws are even reasonable in the first place.

The courts do their best to discourage jury nullification, but it is important to remember that after Colonial American juries regularly failed to convict people for particular crimes, the British government would instead charge people for those crimes in Britain. That was listed in the Declaration of Independence as one of the king’s abuses: “For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury: For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences.”

As an aside, this for me has always been the glaring difference between continental Europe which is largely under a civil law system, and Britain, which has a common law system (and hence, the US, Canada, Australia…)

The different systems are completely at odds philosophically and require a completely different attitude, which explains so much - Brexit and the antipathy of many Brits towards the EU, and the EU itself are the current exemplar of this - but pick any of the contested parts of the US constitution (like freedom of speech or right to bear arms) and you can gauge support either way by answering the question "do you understand/prefer common law or civil law?"

If you don't trust the citizenry to make decisions for themselves then paternalistic authoritarianism is your preference, and we all know where that leads.

European countries have a jury system, usually reserved to criminal cases with long sentences, like a murder.

Germany is the exception. Abolished jury in 1924.


While technically true, I wouldn't characterise that as "hav[ing] a jury system" but of those systems making use of a jury in exceptional cases or a very limited capacity. Even then I would feel it mischaracterised the system to anyone from the Anglosphere.

Greece, for instance, has a jury made up of judges. That's not a jury, that's an equivocation!

There isn't a lot of contest about free speech in the US. Some, yes, but not much. The objections to getting shot are much more motivating than the objections to being spoken to or even about.

You should try Europe, there's plenty of contest about it there, and with plenty of reference to the US.

there are a lot of things that are unfair about the us legal system that are unfair, but the jury selection process is not one of them. the prosecutor and defense attorney both get an unlimited number of "strikes for cause". it's a good system for eliminating jurors with potential bias.

if you face criminal charges is the US, you can have the verdict decided by the judge if you prefer, but it's usually not a good idea. trial by jury tends to favor the defense more than a bench trial (where the judge decides).

imo trial by jury is probably the best part of the US legal system. the real issue is the imbalance in resources between state prosecutors and public defendants. a poor or overburdened attorney can fail to make use of the many advantages you have as the defendant in a jury trial.

We do have remnants of it. In all more severe criminal trials the number of lay judges is calibrated such that they alone without the votes of the professional judges can acquit.

Unfortunately, there are many, many problems with it.

Lay judges don't get to see the court record (or even the written indictment), they stumble into the trial unprepared, and since oftentimes the oral proceedings are referring to things in the record, they can easily be overwhelmed and confused.

Additionally, court secrecy is absolute, and they must not tell anyone how they voted or why, so the professional judge can always sabotage an acquittal by introducing an error in the written judgment, which is written without the lay judges, and the lay judges never even see the written judgment.

If there are things in the record, how do you prevent these lay judges from reading them? Do you have any insight as to why the court system prevents the lay judges from begin informed -- presumably to prevent the record from being an undue influence.

> If there are things in the record, how do you prevent these lay judges from reading them?

As a lay judge you walk into the court building in the morning of those days you've been appointed for. You meet the professional judges, and they give you a short rundown of the day planned. Then you start the trials.

Until then you never even knew that Mr Miller was going to be tried for arson or that Mrs Johnson was going to be tried for shop-lifting.

If you walked into the judges office and asked the secretary (well, officer of records) for the indictment, she would tell you to walk away. She, the defender and the prosecutor have the only copies of the record (and in smaller cases the prosecutor does not even have the whole record, just excerpts he photocopied, because the prosecutor in the court room is not the one who worked the case).

Yes, the idea is to have totally uninfluenced lay judges.

Corrupt? It's a jury of your peers, how is it corrupt? It's random people that decide your fate.

In German it's judges. So a judge tries you and says you're guilty or innocent?

You have to forego your right of trial by Jury in the USA for that to be the case.

In Germany there is the Schoeffengericht aka jury trial for intermediate crime. Schoeffen are also called Laienrichter, layman judges, there just aren't that many of them and procedures are different.

The decision of facts (as opposed to legal decisions) is a majority vote of professional and layman judges...

edit: major —> intermediate

The corruption is that the lawyers are allowed to take advantage of the jury dismissal system to stack the jury, and in many locations they will do so.

have you ever served on a jury? it really does not work this way. the defense and prosecution both get to dismiss as many people with obvious bias (eg, victim of gun violence in a murder trial) as they want. then they both get to dismiss a small number of people without giving a reason. usually there are not enough of the second type to actually "stack" a jury. plus the other side is going to use their strikes to dismiss your favorites anyway, and I believe the defense generally gets more strikes.

I like being judged by a professional with experience. Judges are great. And if one judge or panel of judges is bad you will notice everything they do will be overturned in appeals.

The problem is selecting good judges. In Germany this seems to work great, but what I see in recent times in the US terrifies me. Voting for judges leads to populists winning, appointing them leads to very questionable people being appointed for their stance on single issues. Maybe the real problem is that the US is so divided with all sides trying to score points against the other side (whether that's Democrats vs Republicans, Feminists vs everyone else, Black vs White, Pro-Life vs Pro-Choice etc). Everything else just follows from that.

Part of trial by jury is to prevent the government from pushing immoral, dictatorial laws on its citizens. I wouldn’t say that Germany has a great track record of avoiding that.

Was he guilty?

That is the wrong question -- if a juror is that certain, pre-trial, that a defendant is guilty, there is no way that the defendant can get a fair trial.

> if a juror is that certain, pre-trial, that a defendant is guilty, there is no way that the defendant can get a fair trial

Sure they can, one nutjob juror cannot convict.

I've also been seated on juries where some of my fellow jurors were quite obviously biased against the defendant, and this really hurt their credibility with me. I wasn't the only one either, other jurors challenged some of the statements they made and it was clear to me that they also picked up on the bias and rejected it.

My first time on a jury a pleasant looking retired white man said he wanted to be foreman, for a trial of a Hispanic youth, and the guy started with "well he's obviously guilty right?" and he was serious. This was met with total outrage from several others on the jury and the foreman sat there meekly for the rest of the deliberations. The rest of us carefully reviewed the evidence and the defendant absolutely received a fair trial.

One nutjob juror cannot convict, but one person can prevent a unanimous verdict by refusing to cooperate or objectively evaluate testimony and follow the rules. The result of that in many cases is a hung jury and then a mistrial.

Combine this with the concept of jury nullification (something law enforcement DESPISES) and there are lots of situations where it would make sense for a juror to refuse to align with the rest of the jury.

What was the verdict?

I guess the question was whether he was finally found to be guilty by the jury.

I don't know. I was dismissed the next day. Never got to see how the trial turned out.

In my experience, judges will themselves excuse jurors who have family in law enforcement (parent, spouse, sibling), which means the lawyers don't have to bother using a challenge on it. I would expect the same will happen with many/most criminal convictions, especially when they are related to the crime that is alleged.

That's not been my experience, and I've sat through the process in San Francisco 3-4 times so far.

note: my experience is in San Mateo county jury selection as a private citizen. I am also a former lawyer, and almost all of my lawyer friends have never made it past jury selection. I served once, only because I emphasized that I practiced tax law, which is very different from criminal law.

Yep, voir dire is designed to weed out anyone with knowledge of the legal system or knowledge relevant to the case at hand. Then those people are expected to make decisions based on legal standards they've no familiarity with.

It's the best system in the world.

At least you are judged by a jury of your peers. Of course by "your peers" we mean we exclude people with the same profession as you, and we don't really mean people of the same social class. It might be people from your general area, unless the trial happens somewhere else where the laws favor the accusing party. But at least we can guarantee that your peers are humans. That ought to be enough.

Best system.

At least you are judged by a jury of your peers.

You're not though. The one trial I was one was a murder case and the two defendants didn't speak a lick of English. All of the Spanish speakers were weeded out because English is the law of the land and you are not allowed your own interpretations. Do you really think that is a jury of their peers? I owned up to speaking a few words of Spanish and vowed to use the official legal translations only, and out of desperation I wasn't excused.

When the police interrogated one of them we weren't allowed to translate the police interpretation both because we weren't official translators and because the policeman's words were not evidence. The official translation didn't match what I think the cop said. I followed the letter of the law. I asked the judge if we could consider the video of the interrogation and the judge answered in the negative. Eventually we convicted a man of second degree murder. The judge even sent out thank you letters. It's definitely up there as one of the most revolting things I've done with my life.

That ought to be enough.

It's not. Even if you ignore the baked in corruption it's an awful system designed by people enamored with a bullshit concept of legal precision.

There are plenty of things that could be done to improve it, but aren't. So here we are. Allowing felons to sit on a jury probably makes someone feel good but does little, if anything, to address the problems with our legal system.

My brothers a cop and I disclosed and served. They didn’t seem to mind. The cops had little to do with the trial though. The crime was reported by a family member and they just simply picked the guy up. The crazy part was when it was Friday. We were still hung. Guy comes in and says ok times up either you guys vote or come back Monday and the two hold outs went “yeah well I don’t agree but I don’t want to come back Monday” and that was that. That part still rattles in my brain.

I recently listened to a podcast in which James Beshar interviews an anonymous San Francisco police officer who has been in the service for a long time. The police officer said that there are a lot of loopholes(not talking about paroles, probation or anything related) in California justice system in particular that allows felons to come out much faster than the actual time sentenced. For example felons that are sentenced for 30+ years in prison for committing serious crimes can come out in as fast as in 15 years by staying in certain prisons/jails that counts the time served as 2x or 3x. So lawyers game this so that the felons stay in these prisons/jails longer than other prisons and come out faster. I personally has not thought much about any of these issues and neither have a stand or expertise on what is right or wrong. I found what the police officer said (so did the host) very interesting and thought its worth sharing here.


Updated the comment for clarification.

The "anonymous officer" is misstating the way the rules actually work to the point of basically lying about them. (Actual rules: http://www.courts.ca.gov/partners/documents/CalculatingCusto...)

Custody credits. For crimes committed after October 2011, defendants who do not misbehave while in jail will receive 1 day of "conduct credits" for every 1 days of actual jail time served. Felons will similarly receive 1 day of conduct credit for every day of actual time served in prison while on good behavior. However, felons convicted of a violent crime only receive 15% conduct credit for time served (so 1 day of "conduct credit" for every 15 days of jail time served) and 0% credit if convicted of murder.

The only crimes you can (or could) receive 30+ year sentences for in CA are violent crimes (like rape, armed robbery, or murder) or 3-strikes sentences, and such sentencing is no longer possible for a 3rd strike unless the 3rd strike is a violent crime.

So lawyers game this so that the felons stay in these prisons/jails longer than other prisons and come out faster.

The police officer is lying. Credits are based on statutory formulas and no facility provides any more custody credits than any other, because the facility doesn't determine how many credits you get.

Can you listen to the podcast from 12th minute for a few minutes so that we all are in same page? Its highly possible I oversimplified and missed some key elements since I listened to this episode a while back.

Hi, not the original poster here but someone familiar with California's justice system. I went ahead and listened for a bit to what the podcast and its guest had to say.

Your relaying of the podcast, while a little simplified, is not the problem - there aren't "key elements" missing. The problem is that the information on the podcast is blatantly wrong.

Okay. Thank you for the confirmation.

What you call "loopholes" are thankfully a standard part of most justice systems, by design.

It's called parole, sometimes released on licence. First you have to get past the parole board who will assess your suitability for release. The theory is to grant you supervised access back to society to regain your place in society. While on parole there's all sorts of reason you can find yourself back inside. Half or two thirds of sentence is pretty common too.

What America does different is not having post sentence - that's post release and parole - rehabilitation, you are always an ex-felon, even after 50 years law abiding. Other nations find offenders can often reform and regain a place in society, particularly if given a fair chance...

I am not taking about Parole or Probation. Time sentenced in certain jails or prisons would be counted as 2x or 3x more the time served. So cases are often delayed by the lawyers so that felons stay in these jails longer and can come out early. The podcast has more details. I am myself not well versed with the exact terminology.

Updated my original comment for clarity.

I'm not going to reply to all of your follow-up comments, but it simply isn't possible to get 2x or 3x time served based on where you serve your sentence.

The 2x time served is a good conduct credit equal to one day of conduct credit for every day served on good behavior. If you misbehave or commit further crimes in jail or prison, you don't get the credit.

Violent felons get significantly less credit for good behavior (15%) and murderers aren't even eligible.

The article specifically stated the law would only apply to those felons no longer on parole or probation.

I am not taking about Parole or Probation. Time sentenced in certain jails or prisons would be counted as 2x or 3x more the time served. So cases are often delayed by the lawyers so that felons stay in these jails longer and can come out early. The podcast has more details. I am myself not well versed with the exact terminology.

Updated my original comment for clarity

If you served your time, you served your time. If not, shoulda got more time

If you did the deed, people should be able to know and make their own decisions. It's part of your history. Serving some time in a facility is beside the point.

> If you served your time, you served your time.

Seriously, so much this. The thing should be stateless. You made a mistake, there were consequences - but once that's over, you ought to be good as new.

Eternal punishment only ought to have a place in dumb mythology.

Though I see that point, I think there's a counterpoint which is, "We can choose to release felons at the earliest moment when they no longer represent a serious threat to a peaceable society" but that by releasing them at that earlier moment, we give them many freedoms but don't trust them with certain things we trust other citizens with (gun ownership, voting, jury duty, working with children, commercial trucking/aviation, serving as a military officer, whatever...)

I can imagine many cases where I'd be comfortable with someone being out of prison but not with owning a gun after let's say N years for an armed robbery conviction. In fact, I might not be comfortable with them legally owning a gun ever again. If we demand that the system be totally stateless and that we not release a prisoner until we're comfortable giving them all the possible rights, it seems sensible to argue the penalty for armed robbery should be life (which is, of course, ridiculous).

The thing is, most of the things you've listed already has certain standards (though some need to be tightened).

If you have any kind of likely violent history or mental illness, you shouldn't get a gun period, regardless of whether you were arrested and convicted or not. If you can't pass a commercial driving test or ever showed up drunk to the job, you shouldn't get a license. You can't vote until you're 18. And so on.

So I think the right way to frame this isn't "felons won't get back X rights" but rather "nobody gets X right who has relevant evidence they can't handle it responsibly".

Except for voting, which is such a fundamental right it arguably shouldn't be denied to anyone unless they're below a certain age or mentally incompetent.

Isn't that what supervised release should be for? We monitor them in the general population for a short period (a few years) to determine if they're still dangerous. If not, restore their rights. I don't think anyone who goes to prison for 10 years and is observed on perfect behavior for another 3-4 is going to suddenly become dangerous again when their right to buy a gun is restored. These are pretty large timescales we're talking about.

Nah, it should come with thos specific things attached to their release but voting and jury duty ? Why not? There are any number white collar crimes where everything you listed wouldn't be a problem. Seriously, someone embezzles a few grand you don't want them to drive a truck??

> You made a mistake, there were consequences - but once that's over, you ought to be good as new.

The consequences for being found guilty of a crime are more nuanced than this suggests, although not so much in the US which is very focused on vengeance.

Let's take an example a sentencing example I sat in on:

The man had forged paperwork purportedly showing he'd paid a bunch of money for supplies, because he had already written a fraudulent claim for a large tax refund for his business, and the tax office wrote back asking for evidence of this expenditure. That was his last chance to say "Oops, that was er... a mistake" and maybe get a fine, once he decided "I'll just forge the paperwork" he was doomed to go to prison.

Item 1 on the court's agenda was to tell Companies House that the guilty man must not direct any companies. Never (unless a successful application is made to reverse this, which is unlikely) can this man serve as director or secretary of any type of company again. In his family business this means a son will now run the company - why? Because the freedom to direct a company is not essential and we evidently can't trust this guy to do so because he purposefully lied to the tax authorities. He doesn't need to "earn" that back, let somebody trustworthy do it instead.

The guy also got some months of prison time, after the court had reassured itself that this would not leave any dependants destitute -- no point sending one guy to prison only to have his kids turn to crime to get food right? But the fervent hope of the court is that this results in him being _reformed_ and no longer breaking the law.

We can also disqualify people who commit electoral fraud from participating in elections. Oh two government employees conspired to stuff a ballot for a $500 pay off? They're not just going to prison for a little while, they will also have a lifetime ban on standing as candidate in any election and from participating in any way, including as an ordinary voter. No more democracy for you motherfucker.

As to "eternal" punishment, in countries that don't have the Death Penalty (all of Europe for example) what else should we do with unrepentant murderers? Anders Breivik for example still expresses the belief that murdering a bunch of young volunteers was the right thing to do. We obviously can't be like "OK Anders, you've served your time, don't kill anybody else" because that's exactly what he'll do. So he will most likely spend the rest of his life in a cell - periodically psychologists will assess him, say nope he's still dangerous, and he'll stay behind bars.

> they will also have a lifetime ban on standing as candidate in any election and from participating in any way, including as an ordinary voter. No more democracy for you motherfucker.

This I can't agree with.

Punishment can be a deterrent and preventative and also retributive, but there's no reason it needs to be "eye for an eye" retributive. A prison term and fine is enough.

In my eyes, voting remains a fundamental right no matter what you've done, the very basis of our entire system. After all, the state can abuse its prisoners (denying medical care is a common one, but the list goes on) and they can have legitimate needs which require representation. There is no reason they should be denied a political voice as long as they are still citizens, no matter what they've done. To claim otherwise is to deny their fundamental humanity.

And convicting political opponents falsely or under slim evidence so they can't stand for office is a tried and true technique for silencing opposition in many countries. (See Lula in Brazil most recently.) If someone has committed a crime, you shouldn't make it illegal for them to run. Let voters make the determination.

An alternative way to think of this is you're not punishing the former crime, but punishing anticipated future intent. It's down to the candidate for release to decide whether to change.

Of course in some circumstances, maybe paedophilia, the candidate may not be able to change the desire to commit further crimes.

We learn from our mistakes.

If the consequences are too great, it makes people not want to make mistakes, therefore getting stuck.

If consequences are too small, people do not learn to think about "what could go wrong", and do stupid things over and over again.

In this day and age where everything gets recorded and shared, I tend to be more cautious.

However the smaller amount of mistakes gets shared to more people to learn from, therefore maybe we are learning faster this way?

Would you let a pedophile who served his time babysit your children?

False equivalence. No, but I’d let someone convicted of a robbery 20 years ago and nothing since serve me at a fast food restaurant since they’ve served their debt to society.

> False equivalence. No, but I’d let someone convicted of a robbery 20 years ago and nothing since serve me at a fast food

This appears as a perfect false equivalence imo. Would you also let someone who was convicted of poisoning people serve you fast food?

Here's some [0] stats about repeat offeders

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recidivism

Are you claiming most poisoners act randomly and would continue to do so after release? What's your basis for that? Poison is often used as a method for specific assassination/murder, and murder is sometimes committed in scenarios of domestic violence or taking out personal grudges. Why would people from those scenarios then go on to poison fast food customers?

No I wouldn’t, but some would. I should’ve mentioned that where they’re allowed to work should be dependent on what their crime was. A robber can’t work at a bank, etc.

> No I wouldn’t, but some would. I should’ve mentioned that where they’re allowed to work should be dependent on what their crime was. A robber can’t work at a bank, etc.

However; a robber can serve as a jurist? I don't understand your logic; if it was you who were on trial, wouldn't you hope that the jury of your peers had a higher degree of ethics than a gal who robbed a bank? I know I would.

No, whether they've ever served time or not is irrelevant in this case.

It's a false equivalence, because they're not suitable for the role in the first place.

A better question is, would I let a pedophile who served their time work at McDonald's? And the answer is, of course. They need a job just like everyone else.

I bet MacDonald's would disagree. Pretty sure they consider themselves targeted toward teenagers and kids.

Last I went there, it was filled with teenagers, typical middle school and high school from the area. Further away from the city center, the bigger macdonalds have playing area and attractions for children, to cater to young families with kids.

McDonalds probably wouldn't hire a pedophile due to its customer base, but it would (and does) hire other types of former felons, since the majority of McDonalds are owned and operated by franchisees who are generally permitted to control hiring as long as they don't violate labor laws.

I wouldn’t let a pedophile babysit my children (and I actually do know people who served time for pedophile-related crimes). But the question is “would you let a pedophile do any job?” I don’t see why I should object to a pedophile working as an accountant, stock broker, software tester, or juror.

He has the freedom to apply to any jobs and employers have the freedom to reject him.

This is a complete strawman, the argument is that legal rights of this person is fully restored in the eye of the government, potential employers can always turn people down for almost any reason.

> Would you let a pedophile who served his time babysit your children?

Is USA so full of paedophiles that all felons are paedophiles? Or why are you trying to establish this equivalence?

There is a massive uptick in online child pornography. For what it is worth, it appears to be hitting epidemic levels. I have no reason to think this is a US-only problem.

Reference: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/09/28/us/child-sex-...

We already solve this problem with sex offender registries. There's no reason to call all felons pedophiles just to execute your agenda.

That is not the question at hand though...

Why is anyone ever barred from jury duty outside of severe disability? Voir dire seems to exist to mitigate any conceivable juror issues.

Once upon a time jury duty was considered a privilege, a way for upstanding citizens to shape their community. Losing that privilege was a social punishment, and a way to ensure justice was aspirational--lenient and harsh according to how the community expected itself to behave and evolve.

The Magna Carta, which secured the right to a jury trial, only concerned the rights of the landed gentry. The jury trial was about the landed class having the right to deliberate on the disputes of its own members. It was copied from the system used for matters pertaining to Church lands and clerical crimes; matters that were required to be settled by other clergy through a parallel court system administered by the Church, whose rights and powers were derived from papal authority.

This notion isn't entirely antiquated today. Some scholars argue that one of the reasons the American criminal justice system has become so harsh on minorities is because juries are usually composed of members who live in separate communities from the accused. Their interests are in tamping down on crime, with little incentive to consider the disruption caused by wrenching away men and women from the labor pool and their families. According to this perspective, we should maybe return to a system where jury pools are called from much smaller geographical districts--literally the neighborhood where the crime occurred.

When share cropping was still a thing in the South, before penal labor became a state enterprise, and even during slavery, juries were often quite lenient toward the working class, including blacks. (Conviction rates were much closer to parity between white and black defendants!) Jury members knew that the accused likely worked for someone else in the community, and owed debts to others; unnecessary punishment[1] of the accused indirectly punished jury members' friends and families. Things worked similarly at the turn of the 19th century in major cities, when ethnic communities were compact and courts weren't centralized downtown. Jail time meant leaving a wife and kids without needed income, creating an immediate burden on the community (e.g. more expenditures from the neighborhood church's coffers).

If juries were again composed of members from the community directly impacted by a crime, then it might still make sense to penalize felons from serving. Juries would once again be more about the community policing itself, as opposed to today where we principally conceive of juries as impartial and fair (in the roulette sense) adjudicators of guilt and gatekeepers of retributive justice. Fortunately, most crime is still local. "Black-on-black" is a catchphrase today, but crime is generally neighbor-on-neighbor everywhere.

[1] Of course, if you were black then "unnecessary" would need to take into account the need to sow fear in the black community. But so long as slavery and share cropping kept blacks tied to the plantations and farms, that was far less common than in later years when they became more mobile.

There is also the concept of lay judges, people who are non educated in law but are paid a small sum.


Sweden uses lay judges a lot in the lower layers of court. It is not a perfect system and we have had a couple of scandals where lay judges have pushed personal agendas in court. But I still think I prefer our system to jury trials.

I’m normally automatically skeptical of anything passed by our legislature here (which passes laws to ban plastic straws and water in restaurants but couldn’t care less about feces and mental illness all over the streets).

For this, I’m totally 100% behind the decision. A jury of our peers is as good as it gets, folks. Even with the drawbacks it will never get better. We need to protect it and honor it, and that includes letting those who have felt the strong arm of the law decide whether the law itself is applied fairly to other people.

Putting aside the specific issue of felons serving on juries.

A hypothetical issue with the concept of "a jury of our peers" could be defining "peers".

Are there situations where the issue being litigated is sufficiently specialized that the average person would not constitute a peer? For example, determining whether an engineer followed proper practices.

At least in America, is so little shared world view between different segments of society (Democrat and Republican, rural and urban, upper class and working poor, west coast and deep south, etc.) that a given pair of citizens might effectively not be peers?

These concerns could be especially important since the law often depends on determining what a "reasonable person" would do in a situation which might vary depending on the "reasonable person's" background.

A jury of our peers is as good as it gets, folks.

Is it? How about professional jurors. Would that be an improvement? Or a mix of the two; some peers, some professionals. Or what about short-engagement professional jurors - selected from the citizenry at large, but then given some proper training and acting as jurors for a year. Or perhaps a cadre of professionally trained jurors who take a few months to become trained, and then simply do jury duty alongside their untrained colleagues. Is a simple jury of peers really the best we can do?

What specifically makes "professional jurors" better, though? I won't say the idea isn't appealing, but what about making them professionals makes them better than our peers? There are already a bunch of heavily regulated professionals involved in the process so it's kind of arbitrary to claim that we need to regulate more of it.

Why not limit witness testimony to professionals too?

There are many ways for juries to just get things wrong, to misunderstand their role, to misunderstand the law, and so on. Sometimes these errors get recognised and corrected, at a cost; sometimes they just plain don't. Some jurors simply don't know how to pay attention and keep track for extended periods of time. Some education and training in advance could create massively more competent juries.

Why not limit witness testimony to professionals too?

Because we don't have a time machine to place professional witnesses where they need to be in order to witness things to testify about.

Sure, but we already know false/confused testimony is a massive problem, so is it necessarily the case that limiting it to professionals would be worse? Professionals analyzing the evidence, video tapes, etc. We're already moving towards universal surveillance. Many states ban one-party phone/in-person chat recordings, but if we allowed one-party recordings anywhere, any dispute over conversations could be resolved with personal recordings.

Just a thought exercise.

In the jury I sat on, we had a question about the the law and it's wording. The response we got was, "you have already received your instructions." Gee, thanks. Someone more well versed might have better understood the definition.

One of the juries I served, in the UK, had a similar question about a specific aspect of the law related to the trial. There was a 30 minute recess and judge, prosecution and defence discussed how best to explain - presumably without influencing in favour of either side - then we were brought back, told, and asked if that was enough. It was surprisingly involved for what we thought a simple clarification.

Having been on the inside of juries now, it restores some faith in some aspects, but you also realise far clearer where potential problems and limits are.

That is actual part of why we use non-professional juries.

If instructions are vague or confusing, they want the jury to decide what the instructions mean, not the lawyers or judge.

Why not reject the law if it’s wording is too confusing and difficult to apply?

"A jury of our peers is as good as it gets, folks. Even with the drawbacks it will never get better."

I'm never understood such blind chauvinism, particularly here in light of all that's been said in this thread: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21710564

these stories of wrongful conviction seem to indicate a problem with public defenders more than the concept of jury trial itself.

The thing about California is that the feces problem and the plastic ban are related. San Francisco has had a high ambient homeless population for some time, it's just that when it came time to go poop, they would go in a plastic bag and throw it in a dumpster.

And then the city banned plastic bags...

Paper bags are still available

They're not viable for the following reasons:

* Paper can't adequately and sanitarily hold poop

* It's flimsy, recycled paper which is even worse

* They cost $0.05 a bag, which is pretty steep for a population many of whom have literally no money

Go to a dog park and see what people pick up their dogs' poop with -- paper or plastic?

Add to that idiotic idea to ban water bottles in SFO to "protect the environment". Now every thirsty passenger in SFO has to either buy a gigantic 1.5L water bottle or of a questionable health-quality aluminum one.

Sorry for diversion of a subject, can't resist.

Luckily someone invented La Croix so you can just drink your water fizzy, lightly flavoured, and in a super-wasteful tiny can.

Actually, that's pronounced La Croix.

Is aluminium worse than plastic if recycled?

Not sure, although you’d think the energy cost of re-making the can each time would be pretty significant. Also tou need to drink two cans to replace one water bottle.

My other favourite “environmentally friendly” thirst quencher when I can’t get bottled water? Coconut water, imported from god-knows-where.

If it offsets the vast amounts of delusional people who have absolutely no concept of the real world and all its dangers, then I'm all for it.

People who've been to prison are much more likely to be grounded in visceral reality and weigh things properly compared to much of our increasingly sheltered society, especially along the coasts.

Isn't a failure to judge something correctly the reason they went to prison in the first place? Are you saying they're so well reformed that their judgement now exceeds that of normal people? In that case, there must be other jobs their superior ability to weigh things can be useful.

Not all felons have been to prison. A felony is a charge and can be met with probation (lesser ones almost always are unless the person is a repeat offender.)

Your comment beautifully reinforces the point you try to refute. "Normal" people are naive and clueless about the reality of the world.

There’s no such thing as a former felon. A felon is a person whose been convicted of a felony. Once convicted you’re a convict. Reformed felons... sure. But not former.

If you really want to be pedantic, felons can petition to have their criminal records expunged, including most felonies, and therefore would be former felons.

I feel like former convicts will take their role very seriously. More seriously than other people might.

That's naive

They should require a former felon on every jury

No, it won't. If they just mean the state judiciary will summon felons to spend a day at the courthouse, sure. But prosecutors will surely be using their vetoes on such jurors due to their experience with the system, as they do with anyone that speaks a hint about jury nullification or otherwise seems hard to lead.

Prosecutors and defense council don't get an infinite amount of vetoes

One side will probably prioritize booting interesting people like felons though, so they still won't actually serve on the jury of criminal trials as often.

There is a limit on peremptory challenges, for which no reason needs to be given. But I don't think there is a limit on for-cause dismissals.

If dismissing people for felonies was a valid cause by itself, then this law would be completely meaningless, that wouldn't escape a judge overseeing the proceedings.

I would guess that some felons might make it onto a jury with a felony that was (1) a long time ago, (2) completely unrelated to the felony alleged in the current trial, and (3) generally regarded to be a more minor crime.

But I would guess that few felons will make it onto juries, and the ones that do will endure embarrassing questions during jury selections, in front of a room full of their peers, about their past crimes and whether or not they are now sufficiently honest citizens.

There are two types of jury trials in CA.

Criminal trials where felons would generally not be permitted to serve on juries for the same reason that police officers aren't, and civil trials, which conviction status doesn't matter.

Right now having a felon relative is a valid cause. And maybe this law being completely meaningless is the point? A judge doesn't (generally) get to decide a law is a dumb lie so it should be interpreted to be stronger than it really is.

I hope the jury selectors are sharp.

Felons made poor decisions in the past. The opportunity for problematic behavior is present-- the poor decision making had better be confined to the past and not the present.

Proceed with caution.

As they should be! If someone pays their debt to society all their rights should be restored. (Gun rights being the acception, in certain cases, IMHO).

I mean I don't like the idea of people who committed a violent crime having legal access to firearms either, but if we truly believed our "justice" system reformed people, why would they need to have their rights restricted following their release?

I mean I know our justice system is busted and you'd have to be insane to say it actually reformed people instead of just locking them away because we don't give a shit about doing anything else, but either way...

Would you say the same thing if a former convict of child abuse wanted to work closely with your kinds in school, sports or other arenas? I for sure would not be happy with it.

Certain things are not a right to have, e.g. driving license or be working in a specific profession. Firearms in the US is special but the use of firearm in the US is a topic for itself.

> Would you say the same thing if a former convict of child abuse wanted to work closely with your kinds in school, sports or other arenas? I for sure would not be happy with it.

'what about the children?'

it's a tired argument that always has the same answer : some people would care, some wouldn't care, but the phrasing of your prompt provides a moral imperative to agree, no matter the question.

you'll never get honesty that way, you'll only hear what you phrase the question to hear : in this case no one is going to dare say "Let's have the child abusers in school.".

I think it is a matter of risk.

Would I risk a hiring a shoplifter in my store? Yes. Would I let a person who commited fraud to work with money ? Yes. What they do isn't something that could not be "repaired".

Buy you raise very valid views, thanks for that

Just like how the MPAA/RIAA couldn't get SOPA or PIPA passed so they slapped some "protect children from sex explotation" language on it so it would be politically difficult to oppose.

It's more of a comment on how we spin the justice system. We say things like "they're sent to prison so they can be reformed," But if we _really_ believed that, why are we restricting their behaviors post release? (past some period of observation)

The truth is that it's a punitive system, rather than trying to do anything productive about it.

> instead of just locking them away because we don't give a shit about doing anything else,

Why society locks people away is not just about trying to change them (that's a case by case assessment whether it can be done or not) but to simply protect normal citizens from them - and in most cases "aging someone in prison" is good enough to make them less of a criminal (at least for violent crimes).

But then, guns seem to be disproportionately dangerous to the owner as well as the general public and shouldn't be a right in the first place, so that kinda makes sense.

In general, rights should be restored, yes. There should only be exceptions if there is reason, which the judge judges. The judge may rule that an attempted suicide bomber doesn't get to work with bombs in mining operations, or someone who repeatedly caused fatal accidents not get a new driver's license (though I guess that might be an issue in the USA, I hear it's necessary for normal life there, but it's about the example), or someone who committed voting fraud doesn't get to run a place where people vote during elections, etc., but otherwise I don't see how it shouldn't be equal for everyone.

Now if they would just compensate jurors atleast at minimum wage. The current rate barely pays for the daily public transportation costs.

The title is misleading -- someone convicted of a felony is still a felon after being released from prison.

Juries create labelled data -- defendants are found guilty or not guilty -- but how do we know what characteristics of juries are likely to result in the most accurate verdicts, since we don't have a measure of whether defendants are truly guilty or innocent? Has anyone looked at what jury characteristics predict overturning of verdicts on appeal?

> The title is misleading -- someone convicted of a felony is still a felon after being released from prison.

Perhaps it's time for the US to follow the lead of most of its common law brethren in the Commonwealth and get rid of the terms "misdemeanour" and "felony".

What's wrong with having words for "small crime" and "big crime"?

I'm more concerned with having a word like "felon" to categorise _people_ into "small criminals" and "big criminals", rather than saying what it is they were actually convicted of.

Other common law jurisdictions get by just fine by categorising small crimes as "summary" and larger ones as "indictable" for the purposes of criminal procedure (not that this categorisation maps all that well in the US where the right to jury trials is more entrenched). There isn't a comparable term to "felon", which is fine, because it's much better to talk about a "convicted murderer" or "convicted drug trafficker" or "convicted drink driver". And laws imposing restrictions on ex-prisoners generally apply to specific crimes, or to crimes carrying particular sentences with the threshold varying depending on the type of restriction.

At that point, there just isn't much need for the word "felony".

Not like it means much to do that, you are subject to most of the same restrictions anyways in other english speaking countries, just under a different name than "felony".

The US is a bit special in how it restricts the rights of ex-felons though - it's the only major common law jurisdiction I can think of off the top of my head where some states restrict the voting rights of ex-prisoners.

I think this is more about signalling to people who served their time in prison that we want to re-integrate them into society than it is about changing how court cases will be decided. And, even if that wasn't the case, everyone has a constitutional right to a jury of their peers - not a jury of everyone @Bostonion thinks is a good person.

In our existing system, both sides get to rule out a set number of jurors for whatever reason they want (unless can be shown that the lawyers intended to discriminate on a few set characteristics), and then an unlimited amount of jurors if they can show the jurors might have any kind of bias, through a process called jury selection or voir dire. This is a giant industry, encompassing everything from body language experts to data analysis. For example, here's what TransUnion had to say about their new big data product:

> With little time to research potential jurors using manual methods, attorneys and consultants traditionally pick juries based on what they can observe — age, gender, answers to background questions during voir dire and body language — leading to jury pools selected at least partially based on stereotypes and hunches.

> Cutting-edge research tools like TLOxp® by TransUnion make it easy and affordable to quickly find more accurate, actionable information on potential jurors. TLOxp uses proprietary linking algorithms to scour 125 billion records on an estimated 95% of the U.S. population within seconds, uncovering insightful information and establishing patterns and relationships.


In other words, you aren't the first person to consider that people on juries might be biased, and in fact in my opinion we go far too far in the other direction.

Furthermore, juries don't (generally) just get to decide whatever they want, they are instructed in what factors they are allowed to evaluate, and what tests they must use, by the judge. An appeal can (generally) only challenge the process, not the decision by the jurors.

Here's what the article had to say about this:

> The new law won’t interfere with this process. The attorneys or judge retain authority to dismiss a potential juror with a felony conviction from a particular case, for cause — but a felony conviction does not, in and of itself, constitute cause.

In other words, either side could come up with a vague reason they didn't like a former felon and get them off the jury even if they had already used up their free strikes.

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