New Mexico Court Rules Non-English Speakers Can Serve as Jurors

| by Sarah Siskind
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Yesterday, the New Mexico State Supreme Court upheld the verdict reached by a jury that included a non-English speaking juror. The Court effectively ruled that judges and juries across the state must defer to the non-English speaker’s “right” to serve on a jury rather than a defendant’s “right” to a jury that speaks English.

Specifically, the court upheld the guilty murder verdict reached by an Albuquerque jury in the bludgeoning death of the defendant’s girlfriend and the subsequent armed robbery and stabbing. Michael Samora appealed his conviction when one of the prospective jurors had difficulty understanding English and was subsequently dismissed. The court ruled that Samora was right to appeal but that he should have objected before the conviction, while the trial was still ongoing.

While the appellant in this particular case preferred a jury that included non-English speakers, many appellants will probably prefer a jury that can understand completely. The ruling given on Monday sets a precedent statewide for all juries.

Two “rights” are at odds. The first is the defendant’s Sixth Amendment “right” to a speedy, fair, public trial. The second is the non-English speaker’s civil “right” to serve on a jury. The argument against the first “right” holds that while an individual has a right to a speedy, fair trial, they are not entitled to cherry pick the jury. A jury of peers includes non-English speakers. The argument against the second right holds that the exclusion of non-English speakers is not discriminatory. Similar to the legal exclusion of blind people from driving, the exclusion of non-English speakers from listening to a trial is a matter of ability rather than ethnic preference.

Sources: Fox News