No, non-citizens are not “peers”

The California Legislature recently passed AB 1401, a bill that would allow non-citizen-residents of the state to serve on juries. The Bill now awaits the signature of Governor Jerry Brown. Proponents of this bill say that the bill would address the shortage of jurors in many counties by tapping into the estimated three million non-citizens in the state. Further, they argue, this would ensure a jury of peers for the defendant that represents the diverse communities in our state.

I respectfully disagree with those in our legislature who are championing this bill. While their intentions may be honorable the bill is flawed due to many reasons. Andrew Guthrie Ferguson, of the UDC David A. Clarke School of Law, in a very well articulated opinion piece in The Atlantic outlined three reasons why only citizens should qualify to be on jury duty: That citizenship symbolizes self-governance; that citizenship has come to represent our political identity; that citizenship involves a legal and social relationship with the government that includes a commitment for jury service.

Beyond those esoteric reasons, there are practical considerations as well. A United States defendant is entitled to receive a fair trial and judgment from peers who are well assimilated into our American culture, psyche, society and who share the American spirit of the individual (and not the government).

Such assimilation and integration takes years, if not decades, to mature in a person who was not born in the United States and immigrated here much after his formative years.
As Ralph E. Shaffer of Cal Poly Pomona, pointed out in an op-ed in the Los Angeles Daily—“When native-born American citizens are called for their first service on a jury, they have lived in this country for nearly two decades at least and have studied American government in school for years. But AB 1401 implies none of that is necessary to reach a just decision in trials”

Further many immigrants emigrate from countries where a defendant is presumed guilty until proven otherwise—diametrically opposed to the bedrock of our legal system that presumes innocence until proven guilty.

While I applaud California to always be in the forefront welcoming, nurturing and allowing immigrants from all over the world to thrive in Silicon Valley and Hollywood, we must also be mindful of and make sure that the integrity of our legal institutions are maintained by ensuring that only citizens with sworn allegiance and long standing ties to our nation are allowed to have the high civic privilege of being a juror.

Rameysh Ramdas, an S.F. Bay Area professional, writes as a hobby.


Yes, legal residents are also capable

The number of legal permanent residents in the United States in 2012 was about 4.2% of the population and this number is growing at more than triple the rate of average population growth, which is about 0.7% annually. It may not make sense for Montana with less than 1% of non-citizens among its population to create laws to include non-citizens. However, more than 3.4 million legal permanent residents make up California, about 10% of the California population. So it makes perfect sense for California to pioneer efforts to enable and include green card holders in the jurdicial system. AB 1401, which is waiting for Governor Brown’s signature, would allow permanent residents the privilege of serving on juries.

Some cities in California have a large number of legal permanent residents. Therefore, it would be a disservice to defendants in such areas to have a huge chunk of the population un (der)-represented in the jury pool. Especially if the defendant happens to be a non-citizen.

One of the eligibility requirements for jury duty is residency within the court’s jurisdiction. As a result, juries are made up of locals and their decisions tend to be local in nature and often not attuned to national sentiment. The recent verdict in the Zimmerman case shocked the nation proving that being selected to serve on a jury, whether citizen or non, does not make the individual sufficiently qualified to make the right decision. Besides, being eligible for jury duty does not mean selection to the jury. Defense or prosecution lawyers still have the right to refuse anyone from serving.

A Center for Jury Studies survey indicated that 20 percent of courts across the country reported a failure to respond to jury summons  and a failure to appear, which could indicate juror shortage. This bill would fill the juror gap. Legal residents have made significant efforts to immigrate to and assimilate in the United States and are perfectly capable of grasping the nuances of the criminal justice system including the innocent unless proven otherwise doctrine.

Nationally syndicated columnist, Ruben Navarette, writes that the left in California has this labeled a “pro-immigration issue.” Criticisms like this, in fact, are confusing. This issue has nothing to do with immigration and everything to do with demographic data. The proportion of green card holders in California is the same as the proportion of African Americans in the United States. And it is a rapidly growing demographic. These are legal permanent residents who, more than likely, will apply for citizenship eventually. So it only makes sense to try and integrate them completely. California is just the right place to enact this bill. It’s all just a numbers game!

Mani Subramani works in the semi-conductor industry in Silicon Valley.

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