California Assembly approves bill allowing noncitizens to serve on juries

Published: Friday, Apr. 26, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Sunday, Apr. 28, 2013 - 9:24 am

Noncitizen immigrants lawfully residing in California would be eligible for jury duty under a bill that cleared the Assembly on Thursday.

Current state law allows only U.S. citizens to serve on juries. However, the state constitution does not restrict immigrants residing legally in California from being summoned.

Assembly Bill 1401 would no longer exclude "lawfully present immigrants" from jury lists drawn in part by the 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.

"You are not required to be a citizen to participate in the judicial process as a party, as a witness, to work for the courts or even be a judge," said another author, Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville. "It's only a requirement to be a juror. It's not a requirement to be a citizen to serve in the military, either."

AB 1401 does not affect other provisions of state law for jury eligibility, including residing in the jurisdiction of the summons and English language proficiency.

The measure passed 45-25 and now heads to the Senate.

Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, argued against the bill, saying jury duty is a privilege that should only be afforded to citizens.

"We can't completely erase the distinction between being a citizen and not," Donnelly said. "There are certain requirements and responsibilities of being a citizen, and jury duty is one of those. … This effort is misguided, premature and ultimately would not essentially benefit anyone."

Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez said AB 1401 is in the best interest of all citizens and criticized Republicans who spoke in opposition.

"What I think is problematic is that some people hear about something new for a group of immigrants and immediately think there must be something wrong," Pérez said.

He likened the issue to the prior exclusion of women and minority groups from jury pools.

"It's about upholding the standards of our justice system to ensure that everyone is truly afforded a jury of their peers," he said.

Call Melody Gutierrez, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5521. Follow her on Twitter @melodygutierrez.

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