Have you heard about the latest proposal from California lawmakers?
The California Assembly passed a bill the other day that would allow non-citizens (who are in the country legally) to serve as jurors. According to this bill, California jurors would no longer be required to be citizens of the United States.
Talk about a touchy topic.
Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski believes his bill will help California “widen the pool of prospective jurors” and “help integrate immigrants into the community.” Other lawmakers supporting the bill believe there is no correlation between being a citizen and a juror, and implied that because there is no citizenship requirement to be an attorney or judge, there should be no citizenship requirement for serving as a juror.
The bill is now poised to go to the state senate. If the bill passes, California will be the only state in the country to allow non-citizens to serve on state or local juries.
One lawmaker opposed to the bill stated,
Jury selection is not the problem. The problem is trial court funding. … 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.
Will adding non-citizens to the pool of potential jurors magically fix the problem of show rates for jury selection? Doubtful. Show rate is a national problem, and one that judicial districts have been striving to improve for years now. Why do jurors fail to show? There are a multitude of reasons, but inaccurate data, miscommunication and crummy juror pay are certainly on the short list. Until these issues are addressed, show rate will continue to plague the courts.
Although the proposed bill does not change other eligibility requirements (i.e., being at least 18, being a resident of the venue and having command of the English language), do we really want to change the citizenship requirement?
The federal court system publishes a Handbook for Trial Jurors. It states:
The performance of jury service is the fulfillment of a high civic obligation. Conscientious service brings its own reward in the satisfaction of an important task well done. There is no more valuable work that the average citizen can perform in support of our Government than the full and honest discharge of jury duty.
The effectiveness of the democratic system itself is largely measured by the integrity, the intelligence, and the general quality of citizenship of the jurors who serve in our courts.
I’m sure there are a multitude of non-citizens who would truly do their best to render a fair verdict and to follow the law. In fact, many would likely take great pride and consider their service an honor. And of course, allowing non-citizens in the venire panel would certainly add diversity.
Allowing non-citizens to sit as jurors could invite a much larger incidence of jury nullification, whether intentional or resulting from confusion about the process or the charge language. It also has the potential to drastically alter the group dynamic during deliberations. Mutual respect, open-mindedness, and considering different points of view are paramount to the deliberation process. If– and this is only an if– jurors hold a grudge or question each other’s commitment or ability based on citizenship, tensions could surface to the degree of jeopardizing (and potentially derailing) the deliberation process altogether.
There are certainly pros and cons to the proposition, but this bill could change our judicial system as we know it. If ever there was a blog that needed reader comments, this is it! Please share your thoughts on this pending California bill. Inquiring minds want to know…