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The Journal Gazette - 2002

New rules will broaden trial panels

Hispanics may be better represented in jury pools

By Laura Emerson

When Beatriz Cuautle stands trial next year, the faces on the jury may not resemble her own. Cuautle, accused of murdering her newborn child while working at a poultry plant in Kosciusko County in October, is a Mexican immigrant who speaks little English.
     While Hispanics are the fastest growing minority group in America, they remain underrepresented in jury pools, some attorneys say. The jury pools typically come from voter rolls.
     A recent Georgia Supreme Court ruling found that county jury pools must fairly reflect the proportion of Hispanics who are eligible to serve as jurors. Federal appeals courts in Boston, New York, San Francisco and St. Louis have found Hispanics a distinct jury group. Indiana judges and attorneys hope jury rules that take effect Jan. 1 will increase minority representation on juries by expanding the sources from which jurors can be selected.
     In addition to the voter rolls, counties must cull jurors from at least one other source, such as utility customers, property taxpayers, motor vehicle registrations, telephone directories and driver's licenses.
     But the number of Hispanics chosen for jury duty in Indiana still may not mirror their rising population. Tony Garza, a deputy prosecutor in Kosciusko County, and Anthony Zapata, an Indiana Supreme Court staff attorney who serves on a state commission working to ensure that court interpreters meet certain standards, said they seldom see Hispanic jurors.
     Jury duty is restricted to U.S. citizens age 18 or older. Only 26 percent of foreign-born Hispanics living in the United States are naturalized citizens, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.
     Jury service is also limited to people who can read, speak and understand the English language - a common barrier for recent immigrants. The potential pool of jurors may be shrunk smaller still by people who speak English but try to avoid jury duty by claiming they speak only Spanish. In Allen County, it's unclear how many Hispanics actually sit on juries Jury Administrator Lynn Murphy said the county doesn't track race among jurors.
     Rosy Meza de Nuttle, a Hispanic attorney who practices in Elkhart and surrounding counties, lauds the effort at inclusion, despite the obstacles that remain.
     "I think it is of extreme importance to be judged by your peers," said de Nuttle, who represents Cuautle.
     Jurors make decisions based on both verbal and non-verbal cues, and cultural differences play a role in those, she said. For example, U.S. culture equates direct eye contact with honesty, she said. A person who looks down when speaking is considered shifty or guilty, she said.
     In some South American countries, looking down is a sign of respect, she said.
     Also, Hispanic jurors may view certain situations differently from other jurors, said Jorge Suarez, a Spanish language interpreter for Allen Superior Court.
     It's  not  illegal  in  Colombia, Mexico and some other countries to walk the streets completely drunk, said Suarez, who was born in Colombia; In the United States, it's a misdemeanor offense.
     The law requires a jury of your peers, not a jury that matches your ethnicity, age; sex or religious background, said Judge Fran Gull; who presides over felony criminal cases in Allen Superior Court.
     An all-Hispanic jury wouldn't guarantee a favorable outcome for a Hispanic defendant, said Marshall Hennington. a national jury consultant from Beverly Hill's, Calif."
     "I've  seen African-Americans go to jail, even with an all African-American jury." he said. ''Defendants falsely assume they may get some sort of allegiance because of race."
     The defendant may face a jury full of hard-working, law-abiding citizens who would expect the defendant to have the same qualities, Hennington said.
     "No one wants to feel as if they're being conned or manipulated," he said.
     Northeast Indiana's growing Hispanic population, which has more than tripled in the last 20 years, is also putting pressure on a relatively small number of Spanish-speaking attorneys and court interpreters.
     Attorney Ann Reyes Robbins could name only one other Hispanic attorney who practices in Fort Wayne, a city with a 6 percent Hispanic population.
     A brief glance at Allen County's yellow pages yielded only one law firm advertisement that boasted "Se Habla Espanol." That firm no longer has any bilingual staff, a secretary said last week.
     Garza says he's the only Hispanic attorney in Kosciusko County. Garza, a former defense attorney, said it's difficult to find attorneys in northeast Indiana who speak Spanish.
     That's a bigger issue than jury composition, Garza said, because most cases never go to trial. About 95 percent are resolved by a guilty plea, he said.
     Meanwhile, a commission organized by the Indiana Supreme Court is working to ensure that court interpreters meet certain standards. The Elkhart County attorney who represents Cuautle serves on the Commission on Race and Gender Fairness, which is creating a certification process for interpreters.
     Spanish-language certification will come first, followed by other languages, Zapata said.
     Allen County's jury administrator found herself needing an interpreter last month, when she couldn't communicate with some potential jurors. It happened just after the first batch of questionnaires using both voter rolls and records maintained by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles were mailed to jurors in October.
     Five or six callers who spoke only Spanish reached jury administrator Lynn Murphy, who speaks only English.
     "After the first five or six calls, we've had one every week or two , that would call and say 'No comprende No comprende.' " Murphy said. "We've not dealt with this before."
     Court officials may translate a standard response into Spanish, so callers could be advised to complete the form with the help of someone who speaks English.
     Question 4 on the form asks potential jurors whether they can read, speak and understand the English language, she said. Anyone who checks the "no" box would be automatically disqualified from the jury pool, Murphy said.
     Jury consultant Hennington, a clinical psychologist, said some people might play the language card and claim not to speak English when they do. But the percentage is likely to be small, he said. People are going to do what's in their own personal interest." he said.
     Gull, who presides over dozens of jury trials a year, hopes the likelihood of that will be low.

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