By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, California (Reuters) - Immigrants who are legally in the United States but not citizens would be allowed to serve on juries in California under a bill passed by the state legislature on Friday.
As written, the bill does not expressly require all lawful permanent residents to serve on juries, but many lawmakers said they assumed it would become mandatory.
The bill would allow immigrants to be included in the pool of potential jurors if they were permanent legal residents of the United States and live in California. Since those called for jury duty are expected to serve, some lawmakers said that right could become an obligation.
Governor Jerry Brown has not yet said whether he will sign the measure, which supporters said would increase the pool of people available to serve on juries while also increasing the rights and responsibilities of immigrants.
The bill's sponsor, Democratic Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, likened the rules disqualifying immigrants who are permanent residents from jury service to long-discarded laws that kept blacks and women from serving.
"What we look for in jurors are characteristics like integrity, honesty, impartiality and the willingness to listen to all the evidence before coming to a conclusion," said Wieckowski, who represents the San Francisco Bay Area suburb of Fremont. "Lawful permanent residents, who live in the same county and speak English, can serve effectively as jurors."
But Rocky Chavez, a Republican who represents part of San Diego County, said allowing non-citizens on juries could deprive defendants of their right to have their case decided by a jury of their peers.
"Not everywhere is innocent until proven guilty," Chavez said during debate on the bill. "In some countries, it's guilty until proven innocent."
Such cultural differences could affect how an immigrant viewed a case, he said. In addition, he said, immigrants who have chosen to live in the United States without taking on the mantle of citizenship might find jury service onerous.
"I have lived overseas," he said. "I wouldn't want to serve on a jury in Japan."
The bill passed on a largely party line vote with three Democrats joining Republicans in opposition.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Bill Trott and Ken Wills)