A bill aimed at addressing racial bias in how Colorado juries are picked was withdrawn by Democratic state lawmakers after the legislation faced unanimous opposition from the state’s 22 district attorneys.
The measure, Senate Bill 128, would have prohibited attorneys from trying to disqualify a potential juror from service based only on reasons such as expressing a distrust of law enforcement or a lack of English fluency. Proponents argue those reasons have been historically used as pretext to disqualify minorities, particularly Black and Latino people, from serving on juries.
It’s the second time such a proposal has failed to move forward in Colorado.
Last year, a committee of attorneys recommended a similar policy to the Colorado Supreme Court, which declined to discuss the proposal in a public hearing process. Washington state and California have adopted similar laws since 2018.
State Sen. Julie Gonzales, a Denver Democrat and prime sponsor of the legislation, said sponsors were withdrawing the legislation after attempts to reach a compromise failed.
“We asked opposition for written comments, for solutions that would be constructive on how to make this policy workable, and didn’t receive any written feedback,” Gonzales said at a Thursday meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The Colorado District Attorneys’ Council has said any changes should be channeled through the rules committee that initially recommended the policy.
Gonzales and Sen. Pete Lee, a Colorado Springs Democrat and the other prime sponsor of the bill, said they would send a letter to the committee urging them to take up the issue again.
“We’re hopeful that the rules committee does address this, and make progress, because if not, we will come back in the next legislative year, in 2023, and proceed again,” Gonzales said.
The rules committee began debating the proposal in late 2020, after local and national protests sparked by the murder of a Black man, George Floyd, by a Minneapolis police officer. A number of criminal defense attorneys were sharply critical of the state Supreme Court for declining to hear the issue.
The high court told the committee, which voted 7-5 to recommend the change, to bring back the proposal once they have “greater consensus.”