September 23, 2005
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This is in response to the letter of September 13 about English not being required to serve on a jury in Los Angeles County.
I just served on a jury in LA County last week. The pamphlet actually states that one need not be fluent in English because the court's instructions are put in simple language that anyone (i.e., a dope) can understand.
Whether that is actually true I don't know (the jury instructions were quite turgid), but the real situation is a bit different than conveyed by the letter writer.
In fact, the judge did dismiss one potential juror on my panel because her English was poor. The need to speak passable English is one reason that the fluent Anglophones I know get called for jury duty every single year, like clockwork. There are relatively few of us in these parts.
A bigger problem is that in the case I served on, which is probably typical, three of the witnesses, including the defendant and the victim, spoke Spanish only and their testimony had to be interpreted. The court instructed us that the interpreter's rendering was definitive, regardless of whether we thought it was correct.
At one point, a witness was asked if he had spoken to an Officer Moreno, but the witness thought he was being asked if he had spoken to a black policeman (Moreno means brown person in Spanish).
The interpreter caught that one, but I wonder how much wasmissed.
I suspect it isn't going to take long before the immigration lobby cooks up a Constitutional right to a trial in the defendant's native language—including a jury fluent in that language.