Jury Selection: No Interpreter is Available. What are your options?

What happens if a certified court interpreter is not available for a juror? The important is you can only appoint a certified court interpreter, that's under our rule. You cannot go to a justice systems interpreter or language access specialist, you have to appoint a certified court interpreter.

But what if there is not one in the court house and you're right in the beginning of jury selection when you detect the need for somebody to have the benefit of a court interpreter. What our rule requires is that you make a diligent and good faith effort to secure a certified court interpreter.

You should contact the administrative office of the courts and find out if they have any interpreters available. Unfortunately despite the fact that we have high need for interpreters, often times all of our certified court interpreters are occupied in courts throughout the state of New Mexico. If the AOC tells you that they don't have any court interpreters that are available this day and perhaps they’re not even available the next day, you can actually excuse the juror who needs the services of a court interpreter as long as you let them know they must return back to jury duty because they do have a constitutional right to serve on a jury despite the fact that they do not speak the English.

It's not enough to simply excuse them because they cannot speak the English language proficiently and it's not enough for them to say they want to be excused because they can't speak the language. Inconvenience alone is not enough but you also have to remember that the constitutional right to serve as a juror despite your ability to speak English has an exception in it. The exception is, or as otherwise provided in the constitution.

And what that means the due process considerations of the defendant with a speedy trial rights of the defendant. Keeping in mind that we have limited resources. Keeping in mind we may not have court interpreters that are available, you can also consider the rarity of the language of the individual that is on the jury pool and if AOC needed to spend money to bring somebody from a state far away and spend several thousand dollars to do that you can as long as you state on the record the reasons why you are excusing the juror and it's not simply because of the inconvenience rather it's because of competing constitutional right or because of the rarity of the language or because you have concluded after a diligent and good faith effort that a certified languageinterpreter is not reasonably available.

Let's assume that you have two panels. Two jury trials going on the very same day and you have a non-English speaking juror in each panel, but you only have one certified court interpreter. What should you do under those circumstances.

First, because the jury panel was selected through AOC days in advance your staff in reading the juror questionnaire should have been alerted to the fact that you have more than one non-English speaking juror and so you should, your staff should have been able to contact AOC with a few days notice to try to get a certified court interpreter out there for each panel. But where you find this situation where you're in a remote location and you have two non-English speaking jurors on separate panel but only one certified court interpreter you as a court system have to make the decision which jury is going to take precedent.

And it could be considering the competing interests of the speedy trial constitutional right, other due process considerations, length of trial for each, so these are all basically the totality of the circumstances you'll think about.

NM Center for Language Access
New Mexico Administrative Office of the Courts 

237 Don Gaspar, Room 25
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501
aocjmk@nmcourts.gov
505 827 4822
nmcenterforlanguageaccess.org

 
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