Legislators respond to jury, courtroom reforms

by Kathleen O. Beitiks
Staff Writer

The aftermath of the O.J. Simpson trial and other high-profile cases continues to be felt with state legislators responding to calls for legal reform by introducing bills on juries and cameras in the courtroom.

Since the new year began, at least three bills dealing with cameras in the courtroom have been introduced in the Assembly:

AB 2023, authored by Bernie Richter (R-Chico), simply prohibits any filming, recording or broadcasting of superior or municipal court proceedings by the media;

In the area of jury reform, several measures have appeared, the most recent introduced by Sen. Charles Calderon (D-Montebello). Calderon's bill, SB 1540, states the intent of the legislature to address the problems of the jury system which currently are being examined by the California Judicial Council's Blue Ribbon Commission on Jury System Improvement.

On the docket of the Senate's Committee on Criminal Procedure is SB 1413, authored by Sen. Quentin Kopp (I-San Francisco). Kopp's bill adds the verdict of "not proven" to "guilty" or "not guilty" in a criminal trial.

In addition, the bill provides that the defendant cannot be tried again after a "not proven" verdict, with the same effect as an acquittal for purposes of double jeopardy.

The committee also is looking into a Senate constitutional amendment (SCA 24), a non-unanimous jury measure authored by Calderon which provides that 11 members of a jury can render a verdict in any criminal case except in an instance where the death penalty is sought or the defendant could be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The Assembly Judiciary Committee has before it a constitutional amendment (ACA 18), authored by Richard K. Rainey (R-Walnut Creek), which also deals with the number of jurors in criminal trials. The bill provides that in a criminal action in which a felony or misdemeanor is charged, five-sixths of the jury may render a verdict. But if the death penalty is sought, only a unanimous jury may render a verdict.

The measure would require a unanimous jury verdict if the parties in a misdemeanor criminal action agree that the jury will consist of nine or fewer persons.

AB 2003, authored by Jan Goldsmith (R-Poway), deals with preemptory challenges. It entitles each side to 12 challenges when the offense is punishable by death or life in prison without parole. In a felony case, six challenges are provided; in a misdemeanor, three.

AB 2060, introduced by Bowen, would eliminate the preemptory challenge of potential jurors in civil and criminal causes.

Even small claims courts get some attention with AB 2175, authored by Bob Margett (R-Arcadia) and introduced last month. The bill enacts the Small Claims Court Reform Act of 1996, which provides that an appeal from a small claims court judgment be heard by a trial de novo in small claims court. Representation by counsel on appeal would be prohibited.

SB 56, authored by Robert G. Beverly (R-Redondo Beach), deals with juries in municipal and justice courts. It requires a trial jury in civil actions to consist of eight persons, if the amount in contention is not more than $25,000. It also provides that if a jury consists of fewer than 12 persons, the number of preemptory challenges be reduced proportionally.

SB 692, introduced by Sen. Bill Lockyer (D-Hayward), is in the Assembly's Judiciary Committee. It includes Board of Governors-sponsored provisions to clean up and revise the mandatory fee arbitration statute.