The Scholar: St. Mary's Law Review on Race and Social Justice


Michael McCann


In the context of fulfilling civic duties as a citizen, accessibility to language assistance programs ensures every individual, including those with limited English proficiency (LEP), is afforded the opportunity to exercise their fundamental rights. Preservation of the integrity of the justice system must be provided in a comprehensive manner, not merely in one part of the legal proceedings or isolated to one part of the courthouse. LEP citizens should be integrated in public society, not disqualified from it. Statutes that create overly burdensome language proficiency standards create problems with the jury selection process. These standards limit and often deny LEP individuals the opportunity to fulfill their fundamental civic duty. Neither the U.S. government nor the Constitution declares English as the official language of the nation. Yet, to qualify as a juror in federal courts and in many state courts, one must be able to read, write, speak, and understand English. Moreover, the absence of necessary juror interpretation programs throughout the U.S. continues to provide the courts with “reasonable” justification for LEP exclusion. Instead of completely disqualifying an individual for a linguistic limitation, federal and state governments should advocate for LEP inclusion in all judicial proceedings. This Comment examines the inception of jury instructions and how LEP jurors, especially those in minority communities, can accomplish the purpose which the instructions were designed to realize. Further, this Comment will examine the issues associated with language interpretations, how courtroom proceedings can be modified to accommodate the LEP community like providing interpreters for LEP jurors by reviewing New Mexico’s juror interpretation program. Effective interpreter assistance programs protect this constitutional guarantee by enabling every individual to participate in a jury panel representative of society.

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