Albany, NY – The Democratic-led state senate voted Tuesday to allow citizens with felony convictions to serve on a jury.
Current law requires those with felony convictions to seek permission from the Department of Corrections in order to serve on a jury, the New York Daily News reported.
The proposed legislation would allow felons to sit on a jury as soon as they have completed their entire sentence, including probation or parole.
“When people have made mistakes and served their time, they’ve been rehabilitated. When they reenter society they should be able to participate fully in our democracy. Serving on juries and being able to vote are both part of being equal, full citizens in a free democracy,” said Democratic New York State Senator Brian Benjamin who sponsored the bill.
“If you served after you made a mistake, we’re going to do everything in our power to bring you back into society because it’s the right thing to do,” Benjamin said, according to Politico.
He has argued that a jury of “peers” should include those who have been in trouble because they constitute a significant percentage of the population.
“Everyone has a right to be judged by a jury of his or her peers,” Benjamin said. “When I think about ‘peers,’ I think about everyone, not some or all… I think it’s important that as part of that jury pool, there are people who know how much is at stake because they’ve had to live that themselves.”
Critics of the proposed law said that letting felons sit on a jury would be a slap in the face to crime victims and their families, the New York Daily News reported.
Republicans also said the measure is just one more item added to the “Criminal’s Bill of Rights” that New York Democrats have been pushing in the latest legislative session.
“We’re not talking about enhancing penalties for drug lords or cartel people or things like that,” New York State Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan said before the vote was held on Tuesday. “We’re not talking about enhancing penalties for rape or assault or murders. We’re talking about shifting the pendulum way, way, way to the left… You’re all going to see this for the next six or seven weeks, patterns like this, bill after bill after bill that are not in the public interest and the safety and well-being of New Yorkers.”
The state senate passed the measure just hours after the state conducted its annual memorial service for fallen police officers, according to Politico.
GOP New York State Senator Fred Akshar, who earlier introduced an amendment to the legislation that would have classified attacks against first responders as hate crimes, called out those who failed to support it.
“On this very day when we remember them, what does this body do?” Akshar asked. “I’ll tell you what some of them did — you rejected the amendment and you doubled down in your support for criminals."
Flanagan used the example of recently-paroled cop killer Judith Clark to underscore his point that convicted felons should not serve on juries.
“How could Democrats believe that Judith Clark, a terrorist who killed two police officers and a security guard, would be an impartial juror? Where is the common sense and the respect for those who lost their lives and the families who still grieve?” Flanagan asked. “This is justice denied to all law abiding citizens and the Senate Republican conference will continue to fight for common sense proposals to maintain balance in our system.”
The bill ultimately passed the state senate by a vote of 36 to 25, mostly along party lines, Politico reported.
The state assembly version of the bill completed its committee process in March, but has not yet been brought to the floor.
Louisiana law makers are considering similar legislation that would allow convicted felons to serve on juries after they have been finished with parole or probation for five years, according to the Times-Picayune.