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Bill would allow New York felons to serve on juries after they do their time; NY would be 3rd such state

The proposal, already approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, has strong sponsors in the Senate and the Assembly.

A bill to allow convicted felons to serve

A bill to allow convicted felons to serve on juries after they've served their time is before the State Legislature in Albany. Photo Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

ALBANY — Felons would be able to serve on juries in New York under a bill making its way through the State Legislature.

The bill, with strong sponsors in the Senate and the Assembly, has already passed, 12-3, in the Senate Judiciary Committee and is on the calendar for the Senate, where it could be voted on as early as this month.

If passed, the measure would make New York just the third state to allow felons who have done their time to serve on juries. Colorado and Maine already allow felons on trial juries. About 8 percent of the population, or 19 million people nationwide, have felony convictions.

“If a person has completed the sentence for a felony, that person should be considered rehabilitated and given the opportunity to the full rights of citizenship, including the right to serve on a jury,” according to the memo for the bill sponsored by Sen. Brian Benjamin (D-Manhattan).

In opposition to the measure are the American Bar Association and the Senate’s Republican minority.

“Allowing a cold-blooded killer to sit in judgment of a defendant on trial for murder or a rapist to decide the fate of an individual accused of serious sex crimes, isn’t reform,” Scott Reif, spokesman for the Senate GOP, said Monday. “It’s tilting the criminal justice system away from innocent victims and their families.”

The bill could be another progressive measure that could tug at a rift in the Democratic-controlled Senate between liberal urban members and more moderate suburban members.

James M. Binnall, a professor of law and criminology at California State University in Long Beach, said the opposition to felons serving on jurors is usually based on a belief that felons lack the character needed to serve and that they would be prejudiced against prosecutors. A frequent objection is that one juror with a bias against police or prosecutors could force a hung jury, he said.

“I have found no evidence of that in any of my research,” said Binnall, himself a convicted felon with a past drunken driving charge. His research included showing a video of a trial to people including felons, then studying them as they deliberated over the charge.

He said he found no bias, and found that the felons focused on the seriousness of the issue.

“The convicted felons I spoke with welcomed the opportunity to serve and they bring a unique perspective and knowledge,” Binnall said in an interview Monday.

If such a large and diverse state as New York allowed felons to serve on juries, Binnall said, the movement would be huge, and would probably start a domino effect of states taking up the issue.

The bill is in the Assembly’s Judiciary Committee, where it is sponsored by veteran Assemb. Jeffrion Aubry (D-Queens), a leader on criminal justice issues in the legislature.

A spokesman for Benjamin, the prime sponsor, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

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