In italics: the Associated Press report.
In normal font: my [incredulous] thoughts
The California Assembly passed a bill on Thursday that would make the state the first in the nation to allow non-citizens who are in the country legally to serve on jury duty.
What the heck?? WHY???
Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, said his bill, AB1401, would help California widen the pool of prospective jurors and help integrate immigrants into the community.
It does not change other criteria for being eligible to serve on a jury, such as being at least 18, living in the county that is making the summons, and being proficient in English.
Does not change other criteria? It change the most important and significant criteria!!! YOU HAVE TO BE AN AMERICAN!!
From the California Courts official website: (written prior to the new law being passed)
California law says you are qualified to be a juror if you:
No one is exempt because of his or her job, race, color, religion, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, or economic status. If you are qualified, please follow the directions on your summons and call in or report as instructed. You will receive additional information when you report for service. Even if you are qualified to be a juror, you might still have what is called an "undue hardship." An undue hardship is a difficult situation that prevents you from being able to serve. If you face an undue hardship, you may be able to be excused from jury service or postpone service.
- Are a U.S. citizen
- Are at least 18 years old
- Can understand English enough to understand and discuss the case
- Are a resident of the county that sent you the jury summons
- Have not served on a jury in the last 12 months
- Are not currently on a grand jury or on another trial jury
- Are not under a conservatorship
- Have had your civil rights restored if you were convicted of a felony or malfeasance while holding public office
The bill passed 45-25 largely on a party-line vote in the Democratic-controlled Assembly and will move on to the Senate. One Democrat - Assemblyman Adam Gray, of Merced - voted no, while some other Democrats did not vote.
Democratic lawmakers who voted for the bill said there is no correlation between being a citizen and a juror, and they noted that there is no citizenship requirement to be an attorney or a judge. Republican lawmakers who opposed Wieckowski's bill called it misguided and premature.
No correlation between being a citizen or a juror? Jury duty has always been considered a patriotic duty!!!
Assemblywoman Diane Harkey, R-Dana Point, said there is no shortage of jurors.
"Jury selection is not the problem. The problem is trial court funding," Harkey said before the vote. "I hope we can focus on that. Let's not break something; it's not broken now. Let's not whittle away at what is reserved for U.S. citizens. There's a reason for it."
Wieckowski's office said the bill is the first of its kind in the nation and suggested that courts regularly struggle to find enough prospective jurors because jury duty is often seen as an inconvenience, if not a burden. His office did not cite any statistics but pointed to a 2003 legislative report that said numerous articles have noted high rates of non-participation.
Note to the AP: those two paragraphs would have made more sense in reverse order.
But I digress.
"high rates of non-participation"
So launch a freaking marketing campaign encouraging patriotism, civic duty, and the importance of a fair and just trial!!
It will be a lot cheaper than the lawsuits you are going to get down the road when people start appealing that their jury was not American or their peers!
A 2007 survey by the Center for Jury Studies said 20 percent of courts across the country reported a failure to respond or failure to appear rate of 15 percent or higher. The center is run by the National Center for State Courts, a Virginia-based nonprofit dedicated to improving court systems.
It's not clear, however, if that rate translates to a shortage of jurors in California.
Noting that women were once kept off juries, Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, said the judicial system should be changed to allow a person to be judged by their peers.
"This isn't about affording someone who would come in as a juror something," Perez said. "But rather understanding that the importance of the jury selection process of affording justice to the person in that courtroom."
Keeping women (or any minority race for that matter) off of juries was about discrimination and unequal rights. Not including non-Americans on juries is not discrimination! We're talking about a court system designed to uphold the Constitution!
I will be reasonable here and try to see the other side of this argument. If it is an area that is heavy on immigrants, and the basis for our jury system is a trial of our peers, I can almost see the argument for it. And although the AP says nothing of it, I will assume the law made a point to allow LEGAL immigrants. (I'm sure a few people will read it and jump to illegal immigrants, just like I did, out of habit.)
Legal, long-term immigrants, are (if they choose to be) very much a part of the community, and in most cases "peers." Especially in states like California.
An estimated 10 million Californians are summoned for jury duty each year and about 4 million are eligible and available to serve, according to the Judicial Council, which administers the state's court system. About 3.2 million complete the service, meaning they waited in a courthouse assembly room or were placed on call.
In 2010-2011, the most recent year available, only about 165,000 people were sworn in as jurors.
Some details on immigrant numbers in the U.S. and California.
"The number of immigrants (legal and illegal) in the country hit a new record of 40 million in 2010, a 28 percent increase over the total in 2000." (Source: Center for Immigration Studies)
"We estimate that 28 percent of all immigrants are in the country illegally. Roughly half of Mexican and Central American and one-third of South American immigrants are here illegally." (SOURCE: CIS)
California had 227,876 immigrants become LEGAL permanent residents in 2009. (Source: California Watch)
I can almost talk myself into this idea that legal immigrants, especially if they are long-term permanent residents, should be on a jury. (Note use of terminology here. I said SHOULD, not could. I am sure many could, in the sense that they have the requisite familiarity of the laws.)
But then I think of Amanda Knox and her trial in Italy.
What if Italy's laws allowed for non-Italians to serve on juries? Her whole family, plus you and me, could all move there, become permanent residents, make sure we live in the right jurisdiction, and hope to be put on her jury! All just to make sure she gets off!
The thought is preposterous, right? Americans serving on Italian juries? Even if a long-term, legal resident there, we don't expect it to happen.
Okay, so maybe that's not the most applicable example.
Here is a more realistic one-
Illegal immigrants in certain neighborhoods commit a lot of certain types of crimes. (Don't try and argue that I'm being racist or biased here. We all know that crime is much higher among illegals.) In fact, in a small neighborhood in Southern California, it is not completely out of the realm of realistic possibility that the criminal court docket will have a large number of cases involving young, illegal immigrants.
What if a very large group of sympathetic legal immigrants made it a point to live in that same area?
Oh wait, they probably already do.
But here's the thing, now they have motivation for doing so. And not just local Californians, but anywhere across the U.S. If you want to really make a difference in culture and laws, the court system is the way to do it. So why not start suddenly congregating large groups in an area where they can make a difference on juries?
And I'm not trying to imply that all immigrants will be naturally sympathetic to illegal immigrants. (In fact, I think they may have more reason to be biased against each other than other demographics.)
Not all immigrants are from the same country. Legal immigrants come from all over the world all the time. And I welcome that! I am fine with that! (All thoughts of the Boston Bomb Brothers aside.)
But! Can immigrants on a jury uphold the U.S. Constitution and not hold a defendant to the standards of "the old country?" This is my sticking point, right here. Can immigrants, who may or may not be interested in becoming citizens (it is a long process and many legal residents may be interested in becoming citizens and just are not there yet), be expected to not allow for prejudices from previous cultures to influence their decisions?
I realize it is biased to say that they cannot. But! I really have to believe that. How can they look at someone from their own country, on trial in a different country, and not give some allowances for previous culture, while enforcing the current one?
I am a die-hard, red-blooded, patriotic American and defender of the Constitution. I just cannot stomach or accept the idea that a non-American has the right to judge me in a court of law. The court system is based on an American document. It should be defended by actual Americans!
Is this just a case where we need to open our minds to the idea of change? Would it be so bad if immigrant (legal or illegal) defendants had someone on the jury from a different country (their own or otherwise)? Does it make it a more legitimate jury of peers?
But I can't help but come back to the reverse thought- would I expect foreigners to serve on juries in other countries?
I feel that there are 2 sides to my response. The one that sounds a little prejudiced and biased against immigrants, although I truly do not mean to be so. I have no problem with foreign born residents! I welcome it! I love diversity! But am I biased in thinking that their previous culture will color their ability to serve on a jury? Am I wrong to think so?
I really have to keep thinking on that. Because I do feel that maybe there is some unjust discrimination in that way of thinking.
(It hearkens to the old idea that women were not capable of serving on juries because of their natures.)
But I absolutely cannot let go of the idea of anyone but an American serving on an American jury! It just doesn't work! I can't accept it. If I am to be held accountable to the laws of this country, I expect to be judged by the citizens of this country.