August 25, 2013. Sacramento. Both houses of California’s state legislature passed a Bill last week that if signed by Governor Jerry Brown, would allow non-American citizens to serve on juries. The vote was along party lines with Democrats supporting the measure and Republicans opposed.
Image courtesy of Stu's Views.
Specifically, the law to allow non-citizens to serve on juries in California adds the words, ‘lawful permanent immigrants’ to the legal list of those required to participate in jury duty there. The law would still not include illegal immigrants or those with temporary visas.
As detailed by the Los Angeles Times, the measure designated AB-1401 was introduced to the California General Assembly by the legislative Judiciary Committee. In the State Senate, the Bill passed along party lines with a vote of 25-11. On Friday, the State House also passed the Bill. Now, it heads to Governor Brown’s desk for his signature.
Positioning it as more of a burden than a benefit, State Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) remarked, “Immigrants are our friends, neighbors, co-workers and family members. They are part of the fabric of our community. They benefit from the protections of our laws. So it’s fair that we ask them to also share the obligation to serve jury duty.”
One of the Bill’s co-sponsors, State Rep. Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont), argued that denying legal immigrants the right to serve on juries was akin to past discrimination that refused to allow women or blacks to serve jury duty. “What we look for in jurors are characteristics like integrity, honesty, impartiality and the willingness to listen to all the evidence before coming to a conclusion," Reuters quoted the Assemblyman saying.
Republicans not only voted against the Bill, they questioned the law’s ramifications to America’s system of justice. Arguing that not all countries have a criminal justice system where the accused is ‘innocent until proven guilty’, they’re afraid that recent immigrants may inadvertently apply their old country’s system of ‘guilty until proven innocent’.
State Rep. Rocky Chavez (R-San Diego) also argued that the law may deprive current Americans of their Constitutional right to a jury of their peers. He asked fellow legislators to put themselves in the shoes of America’s brand new immigrants, “I have lived overseas. I wouldn't want to serve on a jury in Japan."
Two important items that didn’t appear in the local news reports were the language problem and the criminal charges for not showing up for jury duty. Anyone who’s ever served on a jury knows that it’s difficult to understand all the legal-speak used by the silver-tongued lawyers. Judges’ instructions often seem like they’re only understood by jurors with Masters degrees. If a life-long, English-as-a-first-language citizen can barely understand and keep up, how can someone with little or no knowledge of the English language be expected to do it?
Some supporters of the legislation actually worried for the newly-arrived. If they don’t speak English, how can they understand the jury summons calling them in to serve? And if they don’t respond as required, they will be in violation of California law and subject to a $1,500 fine. Additionally, they will still be required to serve on future juries and subjected to additional fines. Currently, California jury pools are taken from lists compiled by the Department of Motor Vehicles. Governor Brown has not previously indicated whether or not he supports the legislation and intends to sign it.
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