STATE v. JEFFREY GOULD, SC 19471

Judicial District of New Britain

 

†††† †Criminal; Whether Appellate Court Properly Determined that Trial Courtís Disqualification of Prospective Juror for Lack of Proficiency in English did not Require Reversal of Defendantís Conviction.† The defendant was charged with sexual assault in the first degree.† During jury voir dire, the state moved to excuse E.F., who identified himself as Puerto Rican, for cause, arguing that several of his answers were not responsive to the questions that were being asked.† Under General Statutes ß 51-217 (a) (3), a person is disqualified to serve as a juror if he or she is ďnot able to speak and understand the English language.Ē† The trial court noted that it was having difficulty understanding some of E.F.ís answers and suggested that this difficulty was related to English not being E.F.ís first language.† The court excused E.F. for cause, finding that, while E.F. could understand English, his lack of proficiency in spoken English would prevent him from communicating with other jurors.† The defendant was convicted and he appealed, claiming that the trial court, in disqualifying E.F., imposed a more stringent English proficiency standard than is required under ß 51-217 (a) (3).† He further contended that the courtís overly strict enforcement of the English language proficiency requirement of ß 51-217 (a) (3) would inevitably result in the wholesale exclusion from jury service of members of ethnic minorities for whom English is a second language.† Such systematic exclusions, he claimed, was certain to produce juries that were unfair because they would not represent the entire community.† The Appellate Court (155 Conn. App. 392) determined that the trial courtís excusal of E.F. from jury service on the basis of his purported inability to speak English was not supported by the record.† The court stated that the trial courtís inability to hear or understand some of E.F.ís answers was not a reason to excuse him under ß 51-217 (a) (3) and that a review of E.F.ís voir dire examination demonstrated that he spoke English well enough that he would have been able to make himself understood during jury deliberations.† In support of its determination, the court noted that, during voir dire, E.F. conversed in English at length and answered more than 100 questions posed to him over a period of twenty minutes.† The Appellate Court concluded, however, that the defendant was not entitled to a reversal of his conviction because he failed to establish that the trial courtís excusal of E.F. was harmful in that it deprived him of a fair trial before an impartial jury.† The court stated that there was no evidence of a systematic exclusion of a particular class of juror by the trial court in this case, nor was there any showing that that courtís isolated ruling as to E.F. caused or risked causing the sort of systematic prejudice of which the defendant complained.† The Supreme Court will now consider whether the Appellate Court properly concluded that the trial courtís disqualification of E.F. from the jury did not require reversal of the defendantís conviction.†