Arizona lawmakers decide to lightly restore jury challenges

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona lawmakers are advancing a proposal to partially reverse the state Supreme Court’s groundbreaking elimination of the longstanding practice of allowing attorneys to dismiss potential jurors without explanation.

Proponents of eliminating so-called peremptory challenges say it would help prevent discrimination in jury selection, but lawmakers backing a bill approved by the state House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday said the reinstating recusals in criminal cases would preserve a right intended to ensure fairness and fair verdicts.

“This is how we’ve done things for ages and in my opinion it’s an essential part of our right to trial by jury,” said Rep. Jacqueline Parker, a Republican from Mesa who sponsored The law project. “We are not revolutionizing anything.

The rule change approved last August by the state Supreme Court went into effect Jan. 1, eliminating compelling challenges in civil and criminal cases. As amended by the committee, the bill would not restore peremptory challenges in civil cases.

With the elimination of peremptory challenges in criminal cases, prosecutors and defense attorneys can still ask judges to eliminate individual potential jurors for bias or other reasons “for cause.”

Arizona was the first state to eliminate formal challenges, which are a national hot-button legal issue.

Chief Justice Robert Brutinel said in announcing the rule change that the elimination of peremptory challenges was the latest in a series of steps Arizona courts have taken to improve the jury system and “will reduce the risk of misuse of the jury selection process and will improve jury participation and fairness. .”

Court lobbyist Liana Garcia defended the rule change during the committee hearing, saying juries often don’t reflect the makeup of communities. “It’s a matter of inherent fairness.”

Mohave County District Attorney Matt Smith supported the bill, telling the committee that eliminating peremptory challenges would lead to more deadlocked juries by making it harder to weed out potential biased or unfair jurors.

“You’re going to lose a lot of faith in the system,” he said.

Rep. Domingo DeGrazia, a Tucson Democrat who voted against the bill, said the Legislature has a limited time to consider the complex issue and is best left to the Supreme Court.

“I don’t agree with the idea that we can do a better job with the information we have than they did with the information they have,” DeGrazia said.

Parker, the bill’s sponsor, acknowledged that the Supreme Court has the constitutional power to decide procedures for the court system, but she said restoring peremptory challenges falls within the Assembly’s policy-making role. legislative.

“We have a whole system in place, so that’s our job,” she said.

Passing the bill by the entire House would send it to the Senate for consideration.

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