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Examining the Effects of the Inclusion of Non-English Speaking Jurors on Jury Verdicts and Juror Experiences
AuthorChavez, Hilda Lyssette
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There is a substantial proportion of Americans who speak English less than very well, most of them Latinos. The nation's increasing linguistic diversity has not yet been fully embraced by the justice system. In most jurisdictions, citizens who do not speak English well are excused from serving on juries, although there is an ongoing legal debate about this practice. New Mexico is presently the only U.S. state in which so-called non-English speaking (NES) jurors are not routinely excluded; instead, they are provided interpreters to assist them while they serve on juries. This dissertation addresses to what extent the presence of NES jurors on trial juries influences trial outcomes (Study 1) and the public's acceptance of the practice of including NES jurors (Study 2). Study 1 examined court records of 177 criminal cases at the Third District Court in Doña Ana County, New Mexico. Propensity score matching was utilized to compare juries that included NES jurors with similar juries that did not include any NES jurors. Results of cases involving Latino defendants (32 matched pairs of juries) revealed no differences in verdicts between NES juries and non-NES juries. For cases involving Anglo defendants (13 matched pairs of juries), the larger the proportion of Latino jurors there was, the more likely juries were to acquit Anglo defendants if the juries included NES jurors. Study 2 examined community sentiment toward the inclusion of NES citizens on juries using a survey of 304 residents of Doña Ana County, New Mexico who had recently completed their jury service. Results revealed a lukewarm evaluation of New Mexico's practice of including NES jurors. Although Latinos (<italic>n</italic> = 106) generally had more favorable attitudes toward the practice compared to non-Latinos (<italic>n</italic> = 184), support for English-only policies was the strongest predictor of less support for the practice among all respondents. For Latinos, being more proficient in Spanish and less acculturated was associated with more support. Non-Latinos who previously served on a jury with an NES juror were more supportive of the practice. For both Anglo and Latino respondents, the perceived high Latino vitality in the community was linked to rejection of the practice. In the entire sample, having served with an NES juror was associated with more positive feelings toward future jury service. The discussion focuses on implications of these findings for intergroup relations in the U.S. as well as recommendations for American courts.