California First State to Pass Bill Allowing Noncitizens on Juries

California First State to Pass Bill Allowing Noncitizens on Juries

by Michelle Kaminsky, Esq., September 2013

California lawmakers have sent a bill to Governor Jerry Brown that would allow noncitizens to serve on state juries. If passed, California would become the first state to allow noncitizen legal immigrants to serve on juries. The federal court system also does not permit noncitizens as jurors.

The bill, AB 1401, came up against Republican opposition, but passed the Assembly on a nearly strict party-line vote, 48 to 28. Three Democrats sided with all Assembly Republicans. The bill was then later approved by the Senate.

As of this writing, it awaits its fate on Gov. Brown's desk. If the bill is signed into law by the governor, legal immigrants who are permanent residents of the state of California would be eligible for jury duty. According to the Los Angeles Times, if signed into law, more than three million permanent residents in California would be eligible for jury duty.

The governor has not commented on whether he supports the measure or not.

The Debate

Undoubtedly, the measure, which seeks a way to expand the jury pool, has caused quite a debate in Sacramento.

In favor of the bill was sponsor Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) who characterized jury duty as an “obligation” that noncitizens should have as they also “benefit from the protection of our laws.”

“Lawful permanent residents, who live in the same county and speak English, can serve effectively as jurors,” said Wieckowski, according to Reuters.

On the flip side, however, was Assemblyman Rocky Chávez (R-Oceanside), who stressed the importance of a “jury of your peers,” defining peers as “people who understand the nuances of America.” Some immigrants, according to Chávez, were brought up in countries with laws and customs very different from the United States, including the basic premise of our criminal justice system: innocent until proven guilty.

“In some countries, it's guilty until proven innocent,” said Chávez.

Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles), however, took Chávez's argument and turned it on its head, noting that noncitizens should be allowed to serve on juries precisely because noncitizens also deserve juries of their peers. He likened the exclusion of permanent legal residents from juries to the practice of keeping women and nonwhites out of the jury pool years ago.

Some other detractors of the bill wonder whether this legislation could lead to allowing noncitizens to vote.

Notably, the bill does not require jury duty of legal permanent residents explicitly, but many legislators reportedly believe it could or would become mandatory if called to serve.