New Mexico is the only state in the nation that constitutionally protects the right of its citizens to participate on a jury despite his or her inability to speak the English language. The New Mexico Constitution provides that “[t]he right of any citizen of the state to . . . sit upon juries, shall never be restricted, abridged or impaired on account of religion, race, language or color, or inability to speak, read or write the English or Spanish languages.” However, non-English speaking jurors are not entitled to receive a copy of written jury instructions in his or her native language. In State v. Ortiz-Castillo, the New Mexico Court of Appeals held that merely providing an oral interpreter during deliberations does not “impair” a non-English speaking juror’s right to fully participate in the trial. Yet this ignores the essential benefits that a translated written copy has in terms of aiding the juror’s ability to comprehend, pay attention to, and recall instructions, all of which are essential to the deliberative process and rendering of a fair verdict. In this Note, I suggest that not providing non-English speaking jurors with a translated written copy of jury instructions during deliberations may in fact “impair” the juror’s right to fully participate in his or her civic duty. I also provide a framework that trial courts may follow when faced with the dilemma of accommodating a non-English speaking juror with written instructions, as well as some cost saving measures. While there is currently no adequate solution for a fiscally overburdened judiciary, the drafters of the New Mexico Constitution have decided this issue was important enough to warrant constitutional protection, and the problem should be examined in that light.
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Lost in Translation: New Mexico’s Non-English Speaking Jurors and the Right to Translated Jury Instructions,
N.M. L. Rev.
Available at: http://digitalrepository.unm.edu/nmlr/vol47/iss2/8