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California's Non-Citizens Could Soon Get Stuck With Jury Duty, Too

Photo by BrAt82 via Shutterstock
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The notice comes in the mail, and you are torn: Sure, it's part of your civic duty, and you could get on a crazy headline-making case but it's also a frustrating game of hurry-up-and wait, and your boss isn't going to like this. We're talking about jury duty, of course. Now a bill permitting non-US citizens in California to serve on juries awaits action by the Governor, widening the pool of potential people for that courtroom box of 12 peers.

The controversial bill, AB1401, passed the state legislature Thursday, and is heading to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown, the AP reports. If signed into law, California would be the first state in the nation to permit legal US residents who are not citizens to serve on juries.

The bill is backed by Democrat Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, who explains: "Immigrants are our friends, immigrants are our neighbors, immigrants are our co-workers and immigrants are our family members. They are part of the fabric of our community." He adds that non-citizens currently work for the courts, and can even be on the bench as judges. Why not put them in the jurors pool?

Not everyone has such an inclusive view of the justice system, however. The bill is opposed by Assemblyman Rocky Chavez (R-Oceanside), who remarks: "Peers are people who understand the nuances of America," according to the L.A. Times. Does Chavez think "immigrant" is synonymous with "ignorant"? Ever see those online quizzes that test if you could pass the US Citizenship test, and then realize you and most of your Facebook friends forgot all those nuances of America after high school? It's certainly no guarantee that all the Americans called for jury duty got an "A" in civics, either.

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Chavez' point is that some immigrants come from countries where the legal system does not operate as ours, where the defendant is innocent until proven guilty. "I think that understanding [of the American justice system] only comes when an individual openly takes an oath to become a citizen of the country in which they live," Chavez said.

What actually happens after you take the oath is you are treated to a really horrendous video of "Proud to Be an American." Sadly, they don't hand out savvy about the US justice system when you're herded into the banquet hall for your ceremony, just mini American flags. And to think, that's all you get for correctly answering at least six of 10 questions about U.S. history for your citizenship exam!

In any case, what proves to be a sticking point for AB 1401's supporters is the notion of peers. Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) likened this push to widen the jury pool to previous times when non-whites and women were excluded. "Really, it's about making sure that we uphold the standards of our justice system and make sure everybody is afforded a jury of their peers," said Pérez.

The fate of the bill now rests in Brown's hands.