by Mark Wilson
The Connecticut Supreme Court held that the improper exclusion of a prospective Spanish-speaking juror is not reversible unless prejudice is shown.
Jeffrey P. Gould was tried on a Connecticut sex crime. While the prosecutor was questioning a prospective juror during voir dire, the court interrupted to ask the juror about his English proficiency.
The Puerto Rican juror admitted that English was not his first language, but denied having any difficulty understanding English. "No, I understand very well," he insisted through what he called "a big accent."
Nevertheless, the state challenged him for cause. Over a defense objection, the court excused the juror. "I don't think (he) can communicate with the other members of the jury. I had an extremely hard time understanding his answers," the judge said. "And while he may understand the language because he certainly said he did, I have real concerns about in a jury room whether he's going to be able to fully participate with the other members of the jury in their deliberations for a verdict because he's extremely difficult to understand." The case then proceeded to trial and the jury found Gould guilty as charged.
The Connecticut Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court's removal of the prospective juror for cause was subject to reversal only upon a showing of prejudice. The court then concluded that "the dispositive question is whether the defendant has met his burden of showing that he was deprived of an impartial jury."
Gould "has conceded that he made no claim of prejudice or an unfair trial in the trial court and cannot do so now," the Court held. "Indeed, the defendant has provided no record from which such a conclusion could be drawn."
The Court was clear to instruct, however, that its "opinion should not be read to preclude the possibility that English language proficiency or an accent indicative of being a nonnative speaker could serve as a proxy or pretext for unlawful discrimination on the basis of ancestry, national origin, or race in another context, particularly where the exclusion is made 'without regard to the particular circumstances of the trial or the individual responses of the jurors.'"
See: State v. Gould, Conn., A.3d (Conn. 2016)
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State v. Gould, Conn., A.3d (Conn. 2016)
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