I was picking a jury a couple years ago when one of the people waiting to be called forward to answer questions handed my bailiff a note: “Is the defendant in the country illegally?”
After the next break I had the potential jurors wait in the hall while the bailiff directed the note-writer into the courtroom. The attorneys and the defendant were present, I read the note out loud, and asked the man what his concern was.
He pointed to the man sitting next to defense counsel and said, “I just want to know if he’s here legally or not.”
I said this wasn’t really the concern of the trial, and that the only thing the jurors needed to determine is if the crime charged is proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
The man said, “I know that. But I think I’m entitled to know if he’s here illegally.”
I told him that type of information is almost never brought up as relevant to a case, and the jury probably wouldn’t hear evidence about it one way or the other. I reiterated that the jury’s job was to assess the evidence, and then I asked if he thought he could do that fairly.
He said, “Sure, but I want to know if he’s here illegally. Don’t you have a duty to look into that?”
I said immigration was generally an executive branch issue while the criminal trial was a judicial branch issue, and that I was going to focus on the trial.
The man asked, “Are you refusing to tell me if he’s here illegally or not?”
The Irrelevance of Legality
As my dad later said when I told him about the potential juror who wanted to know about an accused man’s immigration status, “What on earth does that have to do with anything in the trial?”
The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:34.)
Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly. (Leviticus 19:15.)
If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. (James 2:8-9.)
As Jesus taught us in the story of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), being neighbors has nothing to do with national boundaries. And getting a fair trial in a courtroom should have nothing to do with immigration status.