This question is U.S. based.

I ask this because recently I was summoned for jury duty. When we were in the courtroom, the judge asked each of the jurors in the box a list of questions. One of them was their command/understanding of the English language.

One person said he didn't understand English and ignored the judge's questions. If I recall, some of the follow up questions asked were:

  • Do you understand English? (The guy answered "no")
  • If you don't know English, how did you know to come here today? (ignored the judge)
  • How old are you? (ignored the judge)
  • What do you do? Do you work or go to school? (ignored the judge)

It was clear he understood English because once the judge dismissed him, he immediately jumped out of his chair to leave. Everyone laughed because they knew the guy was lying. Even the judge remarked that even though he claimed he didn't understand English, he understood enough English to know "you're dismissed" meant he could leave and couldn't get out of his chair fast enough.

My question is why don't the courts charge people with contempt of court when it's clear they are untruthful? This is total disrespect of the judge and the court and is insulting everyone, especially the honorable judge's intelligence.

We can't charge him with perjury because he didn't take an oath but if people were charged with arrest or contempt of court for this, there would hopefully be less of this.

EDIT: Sorry, I didn't mean to make this question into a debate about knowledge of English. I just wanted to ask about holding people in contempt or some other punishment to prevent people from being untruthful when questioned during the jury selection process. I understand and sympathize with those who don't have a strong understanding of English to be on the jury and don't mind them being excused.

Yes, maybe if this guy was a better actor and wasn't so blatant about him "not knowing English", I wouldn't be as outraged and he may have still gotten dismissed. He might not fool the judge since the judge probably sees this (acting) from others every day though.

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    An example of a night in jail for doing that: law.com/almID/900005550023
    – user6726
    Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 0:20
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    As an immigrant I must say that "understood enough English" is not the same as "understood English to act in jury duty", you may understand very few basic words and terms but nothing longer, more complex or spoken unclearly.
    – Rsf
    Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 8:24
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    @Rsf "dismissed" might not be an extremely rare and difficult word, but it's hard to imagine somebody understanding that but being unable to respond to "how old are you?".
    – Chris H
    Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 9:37
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    If you were going to go and appear in court in a language you barely understood, wouldn't you try and find out what to expect? It's entirely plausible that the juror in question had asked other people what happened in jury selection and knew to expect "you're dismissed" when they were released. Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 12:00
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    If someone really doesn't want to serve on a jury, having the person do some other public service instead would be better for all concerned than having the person serve as a juror.
    – supercat
    Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 20:14

1 Answer 1


Why don't people who are untruthful during jury selection get held in contempt of court?

The premise of the title question is incorrect. Jurors are regularly held in contempt of court for being untruthful during jury selection.

I suspect that the number of prospective jurors held in contempt by courts on any given day that courts are open in the United States would be in the hundreds nationwide every day (about 1-3 per day on a typical day in the entire State of Colorado), and in the tens of thousands nationwide every year, although usually the punishments would be at the mild end of what is allowed by law.

But, this isn't applied blindly in a zero tolerance fashion because the court's primary goal is to get cases tried not to punish dishonest prospective jurors and it doesn't have unlimited resources.

Also, the court handling jury selection doesn't want to scare off jurors and have them try to formulate truthful excuses that the jurors wouldn't insist upon because they are afraid of being punished for slight missteps in the jury selection process.

Also, in the example mentioned, the question about an ability to speak English is really about an ability to be fluent enough to understand what is going on and be a fruitful deliberator in hearing a court case and deciding with other jurors who won. This is different from the ability to have the rudimentary understanding of some English language basics which is implicated in the conduct described. The judge would not be abusing his or her discretion to assume that the prospective juror was truthfully indicating that he was not sufficiently fluent to serve appropriately as a juror despite having some limited ability to speak and understand English.

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    @Classified For the record, I understand Italian enough that I would probably understand immediately if someone told me "you're dismissed" in Italian. But I would still say "I don't speak Italian at all" if I was asked whether I speak Italian in a court of law.
    – Stef
    Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 8:58
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    @Stef but would you ignore questions like "how old are you" if asked by a judge in Italian?
    – Esther
    Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 14:12
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    @Esther Yes, most definitely. I would ask for a translator. What if I think the judge asked me "How old are you?", but in fact the judge asked something else instead and I misunderstood? I'm confident enough in my Italian to order food in a bakery and answer the baker's questions, but not confident enough to answer a judge's questions.
    – Stef
    Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 14:21
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    @Stef The responses seem perfectly consistent with someone with limited English who has been briefed not to answer any question they are not 100% sure they understand. (And that's a perfectly reasonable thing to tell someone who is going into court.) Commented Nov 25, 2022 at 21:31
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    The discussion here about how much English the prospective juror really understood illustrates the point that it could get rather time consuming if not complicated for the court to go through the process of trying to figure out just what level of English understanding this man has to decide if punishment is warranted. It's even conceivable that he was intentionally faking having such poor English skills by seeming to not understand "how old are you?" yet simultaneously truthfully doesn't understand English well enough to serve. How much time does the court want to spend figuring that out? Commented Nov 26, 2022 at 5:25

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