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New Mexico court reaffirms right of non-English speakers to sit on juries

By Laila Kearney

(Reuters) - The New Mexico Supreme Court has refused to overturn a murder conviction over the dismissal of a juror with limited English skills - but reminded lawyers and judges the state constitution allows non-English speaking citizens to serve on juries.

Convicted killer Michael Samora asked the state high court to overturn his 2008 first-degree murder conviction on the grounds that the trial judge had violated his rights by excusing a prospective juror who had difficulty understanding English.

The five-member court, in a unanimous ruling handed down on Monday, rejected that argument, saying that such an error by the trial judge was not enough to throw out Samora's conviction, and that his attorneys should have raised the issue at trial.

But in a 10-page written opinion, Justice Charles Daniels cautioned that the right of non-English speaking citizens to be jurors was affirmed by the state constitution.

"Accordingly, while we affirm defendant's convictions, we stress to trial judges and lawyers that they have a shared responsibility to make every reasonable effort to protect the right of our non-English-speaking citizens to serve on New Mexico juries," Daniels wrote.

The other four justices concurred in that opinion.

The defense raised six additional challenges to his conviction, including a lack of DNA evidence and problems with witness testimonies, claims the Supreme Court deemed insufficient in its ruling.

Samora was convicted of first-degree murder and other charges for the 2004 bludgeoning death of his girlfriend and robbery and stabbing at an Albuquerque convenience store.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Lisa Shumaker)

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