Negative Article about Treatment of LEP Jurors in Queens, NY
The Daily News reported on March 20, 2017 that four judges in Queens, NY threatened prospective jurors with limited English proficiency with mandatory English classes. The story claims that 6 appeals have raised this issue claiming error based on the practice. The story has a number of quotes they attribute to judges such as the one below:
If you have not understood some of what I have said because of language difficulties, you will be excused from this trial and if you’re excused because of language difficulties, you will not get paid for today’s jury service and you may very well have to take a course in English.
Jurors were not denied payment based on their lack of language skills and there are not any court programs to teach prospective jurors English.
Appellate attorney Lynn Fahey wrote, “What the court told those prospective jurors was simply not true. There is no provision in the Criminal Procedure Law, or other relevant rules and statutes, that a prospective juror who is excused for lack of English proficiency may be required to take a language course.”
Christopher A. Powers published an article in the most recent edition of the Syracuse University Law Review titled, Textual Misconduct: What Juror Texting Means for Courts. The article notes:
It is a general rule of trial practice that “due process does not require a new trial every time a juror has been placed in a potentially compromising situation. Were that the rule, few trials would be constitutionally acceptable . . . . [I]t is virtually impossible to shield jurors from every contact or influence that might theoretically affect their vote.”
While that remains true, juror texting is poised to put that theory to, the test. Juror texting is really a new version of an age-old issue aimed at maintaining the sanctity of the impartial juror and the fairness of a jury trial. It raises significant concerns, which a multitude of legal scholars have addressed in the context of jurors’ exposure to outside influences via the internet. However, these same scholars have overlooked the fact that many of the same concerns apply to jurors sending text messages as well. Text messaging, in fact, is a unique form of communication that implicates additional complex issues, including the potential for juror bias through extrinsic sources, the complications of technology in the courtroom, the level of privacy enjoyed by senders and receivers of text messages, and the speech freedoms that a texter has.
Bills to Protect LGBTQ Jurors
On March 13, 2017, U.S. Representative Susan Davis introduced H.R. 1515 which is a bill “to prohibit the exclusion of individuals from service on a Federal jury on account of sexual orientation or gender identity.” On March 15, 2017, Senator Jeanne Shaheen introduced S. 635 which is a parallel bill.
Detroit Offers Jurors Bus Passes
The Associated Press reported on March 18, 2017 that Wayne County, MI will begin offering jurors bus passes on May 1st. This benefit is part of a strategy to get people to report for jury service. In 2016, 35% of people failed to respond to summonses.
Nullification Bill in Oregon
Oregon state senator Thatcher introduced S.B. 924 recently. The bill would require Oregon state judges to instruct the juries in felony cases that they have the right to nullify cases. The bill would require judges to provide the following instruction, “As jurors, if you feel that a conviction would not be a fair or just result in this case, it is within your power to find the defendant not guilty even if you find that the state has proven the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”