Civil Rights Groups File Amicus Brief to Challenge Bias Against Non-English Speakers in Criminal Proceedings

Immigrant Rights, Racial Justice

Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) filed a brief as amicus curiae (friend of the court) in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) along with immigrants’ rights organizations Centro Presente and the Brazilian Worker Center in the case Commonwealth v. Espinal (No. SJC-12597). The case concerns what questions judges must ask potential jurors during jury selection in criminal proceedings. The brief argues that, in cases where a defendant needs to use an interpreter, courts should ask potential jurors about their biases against immigrants and non-English speakers during the jury selection process.  The law firm Goodwin Procter LLP also represents the three named friends of the Court.

“Establishing procedures to guard against bias in criminal proceedings is essential to ensuring a fair judicial process and a trial based on evidence rather than prejudice,” said Oren Nimni, Staff Attorney at Lawyers for Civil Rights.

In the current climate, acknowledging the potential for bias against immigrants and non-English speakers is of particular importance as many immigrants find themselves vilified by the federal government. We are seeing ICE agents stalking our courthouses; sanctuary cities under attack; and life-saving humanitarian immigration programs such as Temporary Protected Status dismantled. Immigrants’ rights organizations are urging the SJC to address the potential for insidious bias and to make the courts fairer for all, including non-English speaking immigrants.

Oral argument in the case is scheduled at the Supreme Judicial Court in Boston for December 6, 2018.

2018-11-26 Final Brief