Failure to provide written jury instructions in Spanish did not doom conviction, says NM Court of Appeals

The New Mexico Constitution explicitly protects the right of non-English speakers to serve on juries. See N.M. Const., Article VII, Section 3. As a result, it is fairly common for speakers of Spanish, Navajo, and other languages to serve on juries with the aid of interpreters.

But must a non-English speaking juror also be provided with written jury instructions translated into his or her native tongue?

According to the Court of Appeals, the answer is “no.” In State v. Ortiz-Castillo, the trial judge denied a criminal defendant’s request for jury instructions written in Spanish. As Judge Wechsler’s opinion explains, this did not impair the juror’s ability to participate, because an interpreter was present during deliberations, and could translate jury instructions as needed.

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