Jury Service for Citizens with Felony Records
WHEREAS, the duty to serve on a jury is considered a basic obligation of citizenship in this country, and the right to a jury of one's peers has been historically and centrally connected to due process in the courts. Further, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that the 6th Amendment of the United States Constitution requires that juries be representative of a fair cross-section of citizens, as do many state constitutions; and
WHEREAS, diverse juries have been proven to be fairer in their deliberative process with studies showing diverse juries deliberate longer and more thoroughly, helping to instill confidence in our jury system and support for resulting verdicts, and that the public views diverse juries as fairer and more legitimate than those that are racially homogeneous; and
WHEREAS, this country's history of mass incarceration has resulted in hugely disproportionate incarceration rates for Black Americans with approximately one-third of Black men having felony convictions according to the report, "Growth in the U.S. Ex-Felon and Ex-Prisoner Population, 1948 to 2010;" and
WHEREAS, persons with felony convictions are automatically excluded from serving on juries in most states due to felony exclusion laws, regardless of their record of good citizenship and rehabilitation in the years after their release from prison, and despite the fact that their citizenship rights may have been restored; and
WHEREAS, according to Prison Policy Initiative's 2021 "Rigging the jury: How each state reduces jury diversity by excluding people with criminal records," these laws prohibit more than twenty million people from jury service, in turn, significantly reducing jury diversity by disproportionately excluding Black people, and causing juries to deliberate less thoroughly, potentially leading to wrongful convictions; and
WHEREAS, federal law, 28U.S.C.§1865(b)(5), since 1968 has "deemed" persons convicted of a felony who have served their time as eligible for jury service in the federal courts if they have had their citizenship rights restored, however, because initial NAACP inquiries indicate that some federal judges are not aware of this statute, the NAACP is concerned that federal courts have not taken affirmative steps to encourage and welcome their participation; and
WHEREAS, when felony exclusion laws lead to Black people being disproportionately barred from jury participation, Black defendants' Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection rights are violated; and
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the NAACP calls for juries that are truly representative of the community; jury reform measures to increase diversity; the inclusion of jury service with the restoration of citizenship rights.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the NAACP at all levels will increase awareness, education, and advocacy efforts to secure the right to jury service for citizens with felony backgrounds, not only for those whose citizenship rights have been restored but for all who have served their time.
BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED that the NAACP will advocate to reverse harmful and discriminatory felony exclusion laws on the local, state, and federal level to preserve and protect our democracy and the constitutional right to a fair and impartial trial by a jury of one's peers, and to restore the civic participation rights of those who have been previously incarcerated or convicted of a felony.