May 22, 2019

Quick Takes (v36): Felons on Juries

Quick Takes
As we've discussed, since the 2018 midterms when the Republicans lost their razor-thin majority in the Senate, the majority progressives have been moving ahead on a number of items, including criminal justice reform.

There have been changes limiting the publishing of mug shots (much to the dismay of folks who live to comment on them on social media), the use of cash bail, and the potential for legalized recreational marijuana.

Heck, District Attorneys across the state have said they'd no longer prosecute minor marijuana offenses, with some going so far as to expunge charges from people's records, even without the proposal moving forward yet.

But the latest proposal - allowing convicted felons to serve on juries - is causing apoplexy among the 'tough on crime' Republicans. Here's the deal:
The state Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would allow convicted felons to serve on juries. 
Felons who have completed their full sentencing, parole or supervision periods will be welcomed onto the juror's bench. There's currently a lifetime ban on felons serving as jurors. 
The bill passed, 36 -25. And that's when John Flanagan, the senate's minority leader, blew a gasket, calling this bill "an addition to the Democrats' "Criminal Bill of Rights."
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? 
Who is Judith Clark, you might ask?

Well, she was a member of the Weather Underground, a violent radical group back in the day. Clark drove a getaway car after a truck fleeing a robbery back in 1981 was stopped by police and a shootout occurred, leaving two police officers dead. The robbery itself resulted in the death of a security guard.

She was sentenced to 75 years to life in prison, but was granted clemency by our Sonofa Gov, Andrew Cuomo, who shortened her sentence to 35 years, making her eligible for parole. Cuomo noted that others involved in the crime served less time than Clark, and that she was a model prisoner. She was denied parole in 2017 but was freed last month, after serving more than 37 years.

There were four Long Island Democrats who voted against the bill, including Jim Gaughran, who noted
I voted no because I have concerns over certain serious violent felonies such as murder or rape. Or someone like Bernie Madoff as well. I don't think there's a place for these people to be serving on juries, but I think across the board there could be opportunities that we could explore. 
Gaughran raises an interesting point: do we want white collar criminals serving on juries, any more than we want murderers or rapists? I wonder what Flanagan thinks about that?

If we disallow rehabilitated criminals, those who are paroled or pardoned based on their exemplary acts while in prison, aren't we punishing them beyond the point at which we have decided that they've done their time?

And wouldn't the same be true for someone who accepts their punishment, keeps their head down and serves their time without incident or distinction?

I think the case could be made that these folks are perhaps more qualified to serve as jurors, given their experience on both the crime and punishment sides of the equation, than someone like me - or John Flanagan.

We're a civilized society, or at least we pretend to be one.  There should be a way to allow those who have served their time to fully integrate into society, including getting a job, restoring their right to vote, and yes, allowing them the singular pleasure that is jury service.

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