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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Bonnen passes bill requiring jurors to read and write English

Insider's Report Vol. 8, No. 9

Houston Chronicle, April 20, 2011:  "I'm tired of race-baiting.  We brought a legitimate issue to make sure that our judicial system is efficient and fair to every individual who would enter the (judicial) process.  Creating a specific "English" standard will give judges more control instead of relying on lawyers from opposing sides to negotiate a prospective juror's literacy qualification."  Bonnen called it "a common sense bill" that 37 other states already have in law.

On Wednesday, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved House Bill 1633, a bill I filed in 2009,  and again this session, to ensure justice in our courtrooms.  Under current Texas law, one of the qualifications to serve as a trial juror is the ability to read and write.  My proposed legislation clarifies that the English language is the standard to which the literacy requirement must be applied.

In 2009, our local County Court at Law Judge Jeremy Warren brought to my attention the great need for this bill after he prosecuted an especially heinous case that almost ended in a mistrial due to a juror who did not reveal that he could not read or write English.  District Judge Pat Sebesta, who presided over the case, and other members of our local judicial community have worked with me towards the goal of ensuring that jurors are competent to understand the verbal and printed evidence presented to them. 

Judge Sebesta also testified on this legislation when it was presented to the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee earlier this session.  His expertise contributed to my successful passage of HB 1633 when it was debated on the House floor this week, as I worked to counter an insincere and gratuitous attempt by a member to label this bill as an attack against Spanish-speaking citizens.

To the contrary, this is a matter of justice regardless of race.  The United States and Texas Constitutions guarantee all people the right to trial by a fair and impartial jury.  Justice depends upon the ability of jurors to comprehend complex testimony and facts that are communicated in English, both verbally and in print.  Thirty-seven other states and federal law already require that a prospective juror must be able to read, write and/or understand the English language.

HB 1633 will help prevent potential injustice from occurring in our courtrooms, as well as spare our government the waste of resources and money in such instances where a case could end in a mistrial due to a juror's inability to comprehend the English language.