Sonoma County is at a funny point in its handling of jury service right now in light of the COVID pandemic. Jurors are meeting—not at the courthouse, but at the fairgrounds. Very few trials are being held. But the county is still sending out lots of jury summons. Which begs the question (loudly these days, if you ask me): Does a person actually have to show up for jury service?
A person’s constitutionally-guaranteed right to a jury of one’s peers is one of the most important aspects of our criminal justice system, inspired by the idea that it shouldn’t just be the high ranking mucky-mucks, or government officials, or the “cool kids” who sit in judgement of the citizenry, it’s the citizens themselves. That’s why it is imperative that a person respond as directed to a jury summons, not just because it is a crime (potentially leading to actual jail time,) to ignore it.
Once you’ve received that summons, take a close look at the date for which you’re supposed to respond. If you’re supposed to be somewhere else that day, because of an important medical procedure, or a pre-planned vacation, don’t worry! You get one free postponement, simply by mailing a request for postponement back. But unless you request a postponement, you’re going to need to follow the directions for reporting as indicated on the summons. (In Sonoma County, you can call or check the County’s website the night prior to your service date to see if you need to actually report in person.)
If you’re called in to serve, but have a compelling reason why you should not be asked to be seated on an actual jury, you’ll have a chance to explain to the court why serving would be a hardship. Reasons accepted by the court include:
Yes, having to upset your daily life for jury service can be a real pain, but put yourself in the position of the defendant: would you rather have people from your own community sitting in judgment of you, or a default, nameless, faceless government entity?
A common question I’m asked is “how long do the police have to arrest me after I’ve committed a crime.” A better question to ask is “how long does the DA’s office have to charge me with the crime.” And the answer to that, like so many other questions is: “it depends.” It depends mostly on the type of crime a person has committed, but whether the victim was a minor at the time of the offense can also affect this legal deadline, called the statute of limitations. The various statutes of limitation for crimes committed in California are defined in Penal Code sections 799-805.
We have statutes of limitation to ensure the DA’s office files charges in a timely manner, when evidence should be more easily available and the events are more fresh in the minds of any witnesses, so that the defendant gets the most fair trial possible. In general, once the statute of limitations period for a case has run, the DA’s office can no longer file charges.
Of course, there are very serious crimes for which there is no statute of limitations: Murder, treason, and embezzlement of public funds.
From there, a general rule of thumb is that most felonies (except those that are especially serious or sexual crimes committed against children,) have a statute of limitations of three years, and most misdemeanors have a statute of limitations of one year. (An “especially serious” felony is generally one in which the maximum punishment is eight or more years in custody.) For most crimes the statute of limitations begins to run at the time of the offense is committed.
In order to protect the most vulnerable segment of our community—the elderly, minors, and those who are dependent on others for their daily needs—the law allows for longer statutes of limitations. For example, some crimes which involve violent, sexual acts committed against minors have statutes of limitations which do not run until the victim has turned 40 years old. A lot of crimes which involve elderly or dependent adult victims have statutes of limitations of 5 years. And for some crimes which involve a higher degree of trickery or fraud the statute of limitations may not even begin running until the crime has been discovered.
Prior to this newly-enacted law, in California the maximum term of probation to which a judge could sentence a defendant was five years for felony offenses and three years for the vast majority of misdemeanor offenses. (That said, more serious misdemeanor-level offenses such as child abuse and repeat-offender DUIs were eligible for lengthened probationary periods of up to five years).
Despite concerns that any reduction in the time the criminal justice system has supervise and rehabilitate offenders might detrimentally impact an offender's rehabilitation, the legislature passed, and Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB 1950, which effectively caps misdemeanor probation at a length of one year, and felony probation at a length of two years. The reason for the change revolves around studies that have shown that probation often disproportionately affect people of color. For example, the authors of the bill cite the fact that Black Americans make up 13% of the U.S. adult population, but 30% of people who are serving a probationary sentence. Further, the "probation monitoring fees" are often an increased burden on low-income families.
A 2018 Justice Center of the Council of State Governments study found that a large portion of people violate probation and end up incarcerated as a result. The study revealed that 20 percent of prison admissions in California are the result of probation violations, accounting for the estimated $2 billion spent annually by the state to incarcerate people for supervision violations. Eight percent of people incarcerated in a California prison are behind bars for probation violations. Close to half of those violations are technical and minor in nature, such as missing a drug rehab appointment or socializing with a friend who has a criminal record. And yet despite the fact that these technical violations (non-crimes) do not threaten our communities, they cost taxpayers at least $235 million per year."
Devina strives to make information relevant to the lives of her clients easily accessible.