Legal Interpretation, Legal Interpreters and Dismissing for Cause Jurors who are Semi-Fluent in English

In a case involving an appeal of a death-penalty murder conviction, the defendant argued that the trial court erred in dismissing for cause two jurors because they were not proficient in English, thereby depriving him of a jury that comprised a fair cross-section of the community. According to the court record, when the first juror informed the court that he was having trouble understanding the proceedings without a foreign language interpreter, the judge excused the juror after a foreign language interpreter could not be found. The judge then advised counsel that although she could appoint a court interpreter for voir dire and the proceedings, case law prohibited the court interpreter from assisting the juror during deliberations.

Later, the court excused a second juror after they informed the court that he did not feel he spoke English well enough to serve as a juror. At this point Defense counsel raised a fair cross-section argument, recognizing that there was case law that prevented the court from permitting an interpreter to enter the jury room for deliberations but arguing that this case violated the Constitution.

According to Duren v. Missouri, 439 US 357, 364 (1979), in order to establish a violation of the fair cross-section requirement, three elements must be demonstrated:

  • The group alleged to be excluded is a distinctive group in the community
  • The representation of this group in the areas from which juries are selected is not fair and reasonable in relation to the number of such persons in the community; and
  • This under-representation is due to systematic exclusion of the group in the jury-selection process.

Even if these three prongs are met, this does not mean a constitutional violation has occurred as states remain free to prescribe relevant qualifications for their jurors and to provide reasonable exemptions so long as it may be fairly said that the jury lists or panels are representative of the community. (Taylor v. Louisiana, 419 US 522, 538 (1975)).

According to the case at hand, the court held that the Defendant failed to demonstrate how the exclusion of the two jurors violated the fair cross-section requirement. First, he failed to present any argument that the group of Hispanics who are not proficient in English is a distinctive group in the community. Further, he failed to prove the second point as he offered no statistical evidence of the number of non-English speaking Hispanics in his community.

Woodel v. State of Florida (2008).

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