Translation, Foreign Language Ability and Jury Excusal

Can a foreign language speaking jury member be dismissed for cause because of their foreign language abilities? This is a question that has arisen but one which the courts have generally failed to address directly. Take for example Hernandez v. New York, 500 US 352 (1991). In this case, Petitioner argued that Spanish-language ability bears close relation to ethnicity and that, as a consequence, it violates the Equal Protection Clause to exercise a peremptory challenge on the ground that a potential juror speaks Spanish.

However, the Court opted not to address this specific issue, arguing that the prosecutor did not rely on language ability in the exercise of his peremptory challenge, but explained that the specific responses and demeanor of the potential individuals during voir dire caused him to doubt their ability to defer to the official English language translation of Spanish-language testimony.

Based on this, the Court ruled that the prosecutor’s use of his peremptory challenge was race-neutral as it had to do not with the jury member’s language but their ability to accept the official translation of foreign language testimony.

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