Legislation allowing New Yorkers with felony convictions to serve on a jury passed the Democrat-led state Senate Tuesday, drawing harsh criticism from Republican lawmakers.
Under current law, ex-felons are only permitted to serve on a jury if they obtain formal permission from the state Department of Corrections. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Brian Benjamin (D-Harlem) would allow ex-cons to serve on juries once they’ve “completed any sentencing related to such conviction, including any period of 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,” Benjamin said.
The bill passed 36-25, with four Long Island Democrats joining Republican ranks to vote against the measure. Sens. Jim Gaughran, Monica Martinez, John Brooks and Anna Kaplan all voted against the bill.
If the measure becomes law, New York would join only Colorado and Maine in allowing felons who have done time to serve on juries.
Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan (R-Smithtown) railed against the bill ahead of the vote, highlighting the case of recently paroled cop-killer Judith Clark, the convicted getaway driver in the 1981 Brinks robbery.
“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?” he 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.”
Flanagan and his fellow GOP leaders unveiled a slate of bills last week they labeled the “Victims’ Justice Agenda,” in response to sweeping criminal justice reforms proposed and recently passed by the Democratic majority in Albany.
Dems enacted broad changes to the state’s criminal justice system in the state budget earlier this month that included the elimination of cash bail for most low-level crimes and the expansion of open discovery, requiring prosecutors to share material intended to be used at trial early.
In addition to Benjamin’s bill, which is being considered in the Assembly where it is sponsored by Assembly member Jeffrion Aubry (D-Queens), the Dems are considering other ambitious bills that would further overhaul the justice system in the Empire State.
Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) introduced legislation last month that would make prisoners who have served 15 consecutive years behind bars eligible for parole once they reach 55. The bill wouldn’t mandate an inmate’s release, but would allow the state parole board to evaluate whether an older prisoner should be set free.
Republicans have dubbed the Dems’ efforts the “Criminal Bill of Rights.”
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