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

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


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.

Tags: New Mexico