New Mexico Supreme Court Says Non-English Speakers have Right to Serve on Juries

Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam. He is completing a book on the international challenges America faces in the 21st century.


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Oddly enough I thought that the purpose of a juror was to satisfy the defendant’s right to have a jury of his peers. But apparently serving on a jury is now a right, which cannot be taken away if you don’t understand the proceedings.

Because this is Obamerica now.

The New Mexico Supreme Court is cautioning the state’s trial courts that citizens who don’t speak English have the right to serve on juries.

The court issued the admonition in a ruling that upholds an Albuquerque man’s convictions for murder and other crimes in the bludgeoning death of his girlfriend and a subsequent armed robbery and stabbing.

Michael Samora’s appeal argued that his convictions should be reversed because the Bernalillo County court excused a Spanish-speaking prospective juror who had trouble understanding English.

The Supreme Court says it agrees with that argument but also says Samora’s defense needed to object during the trial but didn’t.

The ruling issued Monday tells judges and lawyers that they must reasonable efforts to protect the rights of non-English speaking citizens to serve on juries.

What about the right of the mentally handicapped to serve on juries? Or the right of people who have formed a strong opinion on the case?

If being a juror is a right without regard to competence, then everyone has a right to be on a jury. Just like voting, there shouldn’t even be an ID issue.

 The ruling said the prospective juror’s dismissal violated a constitutional provision that said a citizen’s right to vote, hold office or serve on a jury cannot be restricted “on account of religion, race, language or color, or inability to speak, read or write the English or Spanish languages …”

But why stop at Spanish and English? What about German and Swahili speakers? And the illiterate?

In Samora’s case, the prospective juror said on his jury questionnaire he didn’t understand English well enough to write in English, and the judge told him an interpreter would be provided if the man was selected to serve on the jury.

However, the judge dismissed the man after he acknowledged he was not able to understand a large of the court proceedings.

Let’s put aside the English-speaking country thing for the moment. If amnesty goes through, that will probably not last very long anyway. But there should be a single unified language for court proceedings that all of the participants understand.

A juror functioning through an interpreter is completely unacceptable. It adds an inappropriate second layer and inhibits competence.

In a 2002, for example, ruling on juror service for Navajo speakers, the New Mexico high court said inconvenience alone doesn’t suffice to excuse a juror who cannot speak, read or write English or Spanish.

If necessary, a trial should be delayed a reasonable time in order to secure an interpreter for a juror, that ruling said.

Again, is the juror there for the rights of the defendant? Apparently not.

  • objectivefactsmatter

    We’re doomed if this continues.

  • Veracious_one

    If being a juror is a right without regard to competence, then everyone has a right to be on a jury. Just like voting, there shouldn’t even be an ID issue.

    hear hear!!!!

    • tagalog

      That’s an interesting question; in many jurisdictions, jurors are chosen from among the area’s licensed drivers. In such instances, citizenship is not an issue, just having a driver’s license.

  • Omar

    You can vote in New Mexico by using the MEXICAN government issued ID and stating you are a legal voter. Dems have destroyed the backbone of freedom by their corruption.

    • CowboyUp

      That’s their goal. The dp is collectivist, and collectivism is antipodal to freedom.

  • Elizabeth Cape Cod

    Might as well make the translator the juror, because his interpretation of facts may be conveyed to the juror in ways that are subjective or biased for or against the parties.

    • CowboyUp

      Well said.

      • Elizabeth Cape Cod

        thanks. It’s the scary truth. Isn’t it? This law gives every conviction grounds for appeal. As if the the system isn’t clogged as it is…

    • Rocky Mountain

      You beat me to it! Exactly!

  • Deerknocker

    I don’t think everyone has a right to be on a jury. If they did those challenged by the parties could protest their exclusion. Being a juror is a job imposed upon, hopefully, a person competent to do that job. To properly interpret witness testimony, a juror needs an ability to comprehend verbal nuances. Those nuances may not be properly transmitted in a translation. Likewise, connection between body language and testimony that is often telling as to truth or falsity is likely to be broken by even a slight delay for translation. Not everything in this world is a constitutional right.

    • tagalog

      The only requirement I’m aware of for jurors is the ability to render a fair and impartial verdict.

      Of course, not understanding the language involved in the testimony and in the admitted evidence could run the risk of being biased or unfair.

      • Rocky Mountain

        Or simply not being able to render one that has any value. Another thing which may be discussed in the comments herein is that aside from the courtroom testimony a lot of time has to be spent in the jury room discussing the case so that a verdict can be found. If a non-English speaker was to try and partake in such a session, which as we all know can be very long and tiresome, it would really be near impossible to carry on effectively.

  • CowboyUp

    How can one be a citizen of a country and not even understand the language? Being judged in your own country by a foreigner that doesn’t even understand the language is an obvious injustice.
    Elizabeth Cape Cod made an excellent point earlier, that the the interpreter’s, “…interpretation of facts may be conveyed to the juror in ways that are subjective or biased for or against the parties.” That’s a problem with interpreters in general, and a big reason the ability to speak English should be a citizenship requirement.

  • tagalog

    So, if the juror who has trouble with English has to have a translator, does the time involved in getting a translator count in calculating speedy trial time against the People? It might not take much time, but in some cases, only a little time is needed to cause the time for speedy trial to expire.

    It should.

  • kevinstroup

    This is insanity. What good comes from having a law like this? What is the legal rationale for this?

    • BS77

      There is no rationale…the leftist wack jobs are doing all they can to create chaos.

  • Patscholar

    Prepare for this insane ruling to extend to other states if amnesty passes. New Mexico is barely a part of the union now – think what it will become. Its not a pretty picture.

  • Rochel Los Angeles

    Just one more thing that confirms the death of common sense in today’s world.