State residents with past felony convictions will remain barred from jury duty for life after the Louisiana House decisively rejected a proposal on Monday that would’ve added them back to the jury pool five years after completing their sentences.
Lawmakers shot down the bill on a 26-to-62 vote after only brief debate.
State Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, urged his colleagues to back the proposal by noting state law allows those with felony convictions to serve in elected office but not on a jury.
“I think there’s something wrong with that,” James, the author of HB 65, told fellow lawmakers just before the vote.
The bill would’ve required at least five years to pass since a person completed probation, parole or prison time before becoming eligible for jury duty. Other requirements for jury service — such being at least 18 years old and a U.S. citizen — would’ve remained in effect.
Under Louisiana law, those with a felony conviction remain ineligible for jury duty for life, with those granted a rare pardon from the governor the sole exception. State law allows those with felony convictions to run for public office after a five-year waiting period similar to what James proposed for jury service.
James described the proposal as another step toward integrating those who’ve served their time back into society and “move beyond this idea of permanently punishing people that have been convicted of a crime.”
James also repeatedly noted that those with convictions wouldn’t necessarily end up sitting on juries since both prosecutors and defense attorneys could still strike ex-felons while selecting a jury for trial.
But critics raised the specter of ex-inmates weighing guilt or innocence.
Murders could possibly serve as jurors in murder trials or rapists as jurors in rape cases, state Rep. Tony Bacala, R-Prairieville, declared on the House floor before voting against the measure.
“You open all that up under this bill,” Bacala said.
After the bill’s defeat, James told The Advocate he planned to push the same idea again in the future.
It’s “disappointing that my colleagues sent a message that you can serve in (the Legislature) but not on a jury,” James said. “I can’t understand the logic in that.”