Jury Summons

Jury Summons

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Discrimination in the Venire?

            It is commonly known that an individual may be automatically disqualified from serving on a jury panel if he or she can swear before the court that he or she does not speak the English language. This disqualification is usually attributed to the fact that it would be an administrative nightmare to attempt to allow that individual to be on the petit jury, should they not be stricken from the panel during jury selection. Yet, should we continue to automatically assume that this treatment of non-English speaking venire members is acceptable, or are defendants actually being wrongfully deprived of a representative venire selection? Is there a case for the claim that the removal of non-English speakers is discriminatory against that individual and the defendant?
            The Sixth Amendment of the Constitution provides criminal defendants the right to a fair trial by a panel of impartial jurors. However, there is no legal precedent that mandates that the petit jury panel must be representative of the community in which the trial is taking place. Rather, the law only stipulates that the petit jury must be chosen from a representative cross section of the community, and it does not entitle a defendant to any particular racial composition in their petit jury. See Taylor v. Louisiana, 419 U.S. 522, 528 (1975). See also Justia Online’s article on impartial juries here: http://law.justia.com/constitution/us/amendment-06/07-impartial-jury.html. However, a defendant may object to the exclusion of potential jurors from the jury if it is believed that the exclusion was based on race, particularly if the defendant is a member of that same racial group. See Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 86 (1986).
            So the question becomes, is there a case for a defendant’s claim of racial discrimination, or even a case based on the Equal Protection clause of the Fourth Amendment, due to the Court’s apparent unwillingness to let non-English speakers participate in a venire jury panel?
            Now obviously there is a clear distinction between one’s language and one’s nationality or race, but shouldn’t a defendant have the right to, at the very least, interview that potential juror to see if they can be fair and impartial if they serve on the jury? Aren’t the person’s beliefs all that should matter? Is the Court taking away, perhaps unconstitutionally, the defendant’s ability to form the fairest and most impartial jury possible, particularly if they are of the same race or nationality as the potential juror? Or rather, should the justice system not bother trying to get every single potential juror on the venire because it would simply be too cumbersome to get a translator for the duration of the trial?
            I recognize that this topic simply raises unrealistic expectations in an already clogged justice system, and truly may not matter in the grand scheme of determining a person’s innocent or guilt. Surely, there is more to the outcome of a trial than the mix of individuals sitting in the illustrious chairs of justice. But is there not some merit to an argument for equal application of the law, however impractical in the scenario presented here? Shouldn’t we strive to have a justice system where all citizens, no matter their native language, can weigh in on the justice system so that equality and fairness might prevail? Only time, and a really good fact pattern, will tell.

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