As a personal injury trial attorney in the Tampa Bay area of Florida, I do not normally concern myself with what is happening in the California legislature. I have enough on my plate just following existing Florida law. However, when I read recently that California may soon enact a law that allows non-citizens to vote, it caught my eye and I thought it would make a good blog topic. If this becomes law, California will be the first state in the Union to allow non-citizens to sit as jurors during a trial. (Note – the law would require that the juror be in the Country legally) This could range from someone whom was hit on his bicycle by a car, to a criminal defendant charged with multiple felonies. Contrast this with Florida Statute §40.01, which states, “Jurors shall be taken from the male and female persons at least 18 years of age who are citizens of the United States and legal residents of this state and their respective counties and who possess a driver’s license or identification card….” As you see, Florida requires that to sit on a jury you must be a United States citizen.
A few years ago I commuted each morning to downtown St. Petersburg for a one week jury trial. The case involved a client whom had suffered personal injuries inLargo due to a car accident. I had never given a lot of thought to the qualifications of serving on a jury, other than knowing the composition had changed back when Florida went from summoning persons that were registered voters, to the present requirement of being over 18 and having a drivers’ license. As far as the jury panel was concerned, as a trial lawyer I just wanted to make sure I did my part during jury selection to obtain the most impartial group of six possible. The interesting thing about a jury is just how diverse it can be in composition. For example, in my St. Petersburg trial, I had a 50 year old man with an engineering background, sitting next to a 21 year old man that made sandwiches at Subway.
Rather than write a lengthy blog addressing the Constitutional issues that might arise from California’s potential law, I simply bring this topic up for philosophical reasons. Perhaps for many persons summoned to serve on a jury, the biggest concern might be “how do I get out of this?” That aside, the fact it that it is a duty and a privilege to serve as a juror. I believe that if we change the citizenship requirement to serve as a juror, then we are chipping away at our own identity as Americans. Maybe this is true only to a small extent, but where will this lead? Is the next step allowing non-citizens to vote?
To be clear, this opinion is NOT intended to be a statement on the complex issue of immigration. We are all immigrants to an extent, and jury pools should be color blind, and open to persons of all ethnic backgrounds. I am merely pointing out that I believe that regardless of background, a juror should have legally obtained citizenship in the United States. As to the path for gaining that citizenship, lawmakers will no doubt continue to argue this point for many years to come.