New Mexico court reaffirms right of non-English speakers to sit on juries

Wed Aug 14, 2013 1:09am EDT

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(Reuters) - The New Mexico Supreme Court has refused to overturn a murder conviction over the dismissal of a juror with limited English skills - but reminded lawyers and judges the state constitution allows non-English speaking citizens to serve on juries.

Convicted killer Michael Samora asked the state high court to overturn his 2008 first-degree murder conviction on the grounds that the trial judge had violated his rights by excusing a prospective juror who had difficulty understanding English.

The five-member court, in a unanimous ruling handed down on Monday, rejected that argument, saying that such an error by the trial judge was not enough to throw out Samora's conviction, and that his attorneys should have raised the issue at trial.

But in a 10-page written opinion, Justice Charles Daniels cautioned that the right of non-English speaking citizens to be jurors was affirmed by the state constitution.

"Accordingly, while we affirm defendant's convictions, we stress to trial judges and lawyers that they have a shared responsibility to make every reasonable effort to protect the right of our non-English-speaking citizens to serve on New Mexico juries," Daniels wrote.

The other four justices concurred in that opinion.

The defense raised six additional challenges to his conviction, including a lack of DNA evidence and problems with witness testimonies, claims the Supreme Court deemed insufficient in its ruling.

Samora was convicted of first-degree murder and other charges for the 2004 bludgeoning death of his girlfriend and robbery and stabbing at an Albuquerque convenience store.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Lisa Shumaker)

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Comments (7)
AZreb wrote:
Thought that you had to be able to read, speak and comprehend English in order to become a citizen and citizens are the only people allowed to serve on juries. If you have a non-English speaking person on a jury, that is not a jury of peers if the defendant is an English-speaking citizen.

Our judicial system is becoming a bad joke on the US from the top down.

Aug 14, 2013 9:22am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Des3Maisons wrote:
It’s pretty sad when people in the justice system in this country don’t have an ounce of common sense. Also sounds like the New Mexico state constitution is deeply flawed and Michael Samora’s lawyer wasn’t doing his job. What a stunningly ridiculous situation.

Aug 14, 2013 9:45am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Speaker2 wrote:
Before you rush to judgment. New Mexico’s population majority is Hispanic and speaking Spanish in the state is just as common as English, even among non-Hispanics who live there. It is not unusual to speak Spanish and English in the same conversation.

It is not a question of some people becoming citizens and not speaking English. It is a simple fact that older generation Hispanics may only speak Spanish and there are families who have lived in New Mexico for generations. Remember New Mexico has only be a state for 101 years and the state is very proud of its Spanish and Indian heritage.

Aug 14, 2013 10:31am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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