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Jury box

All state tax filers could end up on California juries under a proposed law introduced Thursday night intended to make more juror pools more diverse.

Now, prospective jurors are pulled from the Department of Motor Vehicles’ driver’s license and identification card lists, or from county lists of registered voters. State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, said Senate Bill 1001 would create jury pools reflective of California’s demographics by requiring jury commissioners to include anyone who files state taxes.

Wiener said juries unfairly skew white and wealthy and generally fail to reflect California’s diverse populations. He said the law would establish a more equitable justice system because racial minorities are underrepresented on juries.

“Trial by jury of one’s peers is fundamental to our democracy, and a representative jury pool is crucial to making that principle a reality,” Wiener said in a statement. “Our current system for selecting jury pools undermines our ability to ensure people have a jury of their peers. We need to include all Californians on our jury lists, not just those who are registered to vote who have a driver’s license.”

Whites make up 42 percent of California residents; Latinos 35 percent; Asian Americans 15 percent; and 6 percent of Californians are black, according to an August 2019 Public Policy Institute of California report.

Meanwhile, 59 percent of registered voters are not Latino, black or Asian, per Political Data Inc.

Driver’s license and state ID lists sometimes overlap with registered voters, therefore diminishing a jury pool that “reflects a fair cross-section of the community,” according to a 2016 report from The Judges Journal, which said additional names could be pulled from sources like state income tax rolls to expand representation and increase the number of available and eligible jurors.

The California Franchise Tax Board processed more than 18 million tax returns in 2019.

A widened jury pool “strengthens the entire legal system,” said Oscar Bobrow, president of the California Public Defenders Association, the bill’s sponsor.

“For juries to speak on behalf of the community, they must fairly reflect that community,” he said.

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