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New bill could allow some La. felons to serve on juries

Updated: Jun. 1, 2021 at 10:33 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - A new bill could allow convicted felons in Louisiana to serve on juries for civil and criminal cases.

The proposal by Rep. C. Denise Marcelle (D-Baton Rouge) won final legislative passage with a 23-13 Senate vote. The House narrowly supported the measure with a 55-42 vote.

Under current law, people convicted of a felony crime can only serve on a jury if they have been pardoned by a governor. Marcelle’s bill would change that to allow people convicted of felonies to be eligible for jury service if they’ve been off probation or parole and out of prison for five years.

“I believe those people can be fair,” said Marcelle.

While it has received the necessary support, there are some lawmakers who believe felons aren’t capable of being responsible jurors.

“We’ve typically handled people as though, ‘once a criminal, always a criminal’ or ‘once a felon, always a felon’ and I don’t think that’s the way we should look at it. We should give people chances, second chances, and sometimes even third chances,” added Marcelle.

If signed by Gov. John Bel Edwards, this will afford felons an opportunity that might not have seemed possible.

Checo Yancy is a former prisoner who spent 20 years behind bars. Since his release, he’s been fighting for the rights of incarcerated prisoners with the group, Know Your Vote.

He said this could be huge for people in his same situation.

“You know the old saying, ‘God forgives you but man never will,’ it’s just a matter of what it is,” said Yancy. “To be an advocate, fighting for people to get their rights back, it’s the right thing to do.”

Just because someone is eligible for jury duty doesn’t mean a person will be selected. Marcell said prosecutors and defense attorneys could still use their authority to strike someone from the jury pool if they want.

“I believe all of us have built-in biases and so, regardless of what it is, I think that we have to trust our DAs, we have to trust our criminal defense attorneys, and we certainly have to trust our judges to make those decisions as we move forward with the trials,” explained Marcelle.

Yancy said having the chance to serve isn’t what he’s excited about, it’s the opportunity of feeling like he belongs again.

“To me, it feels fulfilling, that for people that’s been out of prison and have this opportunity, to be a part of the community,” Yancy pointed out.

If it is signed into law, it would take effect on August 1, 2021.

The bill is filed as House Bill 84.

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