TO: Joint Procedure Committee
FROM: Mike Hagburg
DATE: January 12, 2018
RE: Rule 50, N.D. Sup. Ct. Admin. R., Court Interpreter Qualifications and Procedures
In September, Unit 1 court administrator Scott Johnson has suggested adding jurors to the list of people who may receive interpreter services under Rule 50. He also suggested that a paragraph referring to the new sexual assault restraining order statute, N.D.C.C. § 12.1-31-01.2, be added to the rule. His email is attached.
The committee discussed the proposal at the September meeting and concluded that allowing people who are unable to speak English to serve as jurors with the assistance of foreign language interpreters would create difficulties and may be contrary to statute. The committee instructed staff to conduct research about the legal implications of having non-English speakers as jurors.
The juror disqualification statute, N.D.C.C. 27-09.1-08, provides for the disqualification of prospective jurors who are "unable with reasonable accommodation to communicate and understand the English language." The federal juror qualification statute, 28 U.S.C. 1865, does not mention "reasonable accommodation" and allows disqualification of prospective jurors who are "unable to read, write, and understand the English language" or "unable to speak the English language."
The interpreter rules were amended August 1, 2015, partially in response to urging from the federal Department of Justice. The DOJ's 2016 publication "Language Access in State Courts" emphasizes the importance of interpretation and translation services for court system users. But the word "juror" is mentioned only once in the publication: the DOJ indicated that having interpreter services for court users such as witnesses and parties was important so that people like jurors and judges could understand them.
Staff's research showed that some states are discussing or studying whether to allow non-English speakers to serve on juries. Only one state consistently allows non-English speakers to serve on juries: New Mexico, because it is required by their state constitution.
While the committee did not seem to favor having non-English speakers as jurors in North Dakota, the discussion at the September meeting showed more agreement with the idea of accommodating deaf jurors with interpreters. Proposed amendments to Rule 50 are attached, adding hearing impaired jurors to the list of people who may receive interpreter services and also adding a new paragraph relating to sexual assault restraining order proceedings.