Written by Warren Mass
California’s Assembly passed a bill on April 25 that would permit non-U.S. citizens to serve on juries. If the bill, AB 1401, passes the Senate and is signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown, California would become the first state to allow this practice. Brown has not take a public position on the bill.
The Fresno Bee reported that AB 1401 would remove the exclusion of “lawfully present immigrants” from jury selection lists that are compiled in part from California’s Department of Motor Vehicles records. The bill was written by seven Democrats on the Assembly Judiciary Committee, including the chairman, Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont).
AB 1401 would not change other qualifications for jury service: Jury candidates still must be at least 18, must live in the county that is making the summons, must be proficient in English, and must have no felony convictions.
As of 2008, California led the nation with the highest percentage of non-U.S. citizens at 14.9 percent of the population.
The Los Angeles Times cited Wieckowski’s assertion that the legislation would help ensure an adequate pool of jurors, help immigrants integrate into American society, and make juries more representative of California.
Juries “should reflect our community, and our community is always changing,” Wieckowski said. “It's time for California to be a leader on this.”
Assemblyman Rocky Chavez (R-Oceanside), who voted against the bill, explained his opposition by saying that the measure was unfair to both the prospective jurors and any defendants whose fates they could decide, reported the Times. Non-citizens may not want the responsibilities of American citizenship, said Chavez, and people on trial should not be judged by jurors who “might not have the same cultural experience.”
The Times also quoted Matthew McCusker, president of the American Society of Trial Consultants, who expressed mixed feelings about the legislation.