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Linguists

Admissibility Rate: .000    (0/4)

United States v. Sebaggala, 256 F.3d 59 (1st Cir. 2001).  Ugandan national is arrested on entry to U.S. for failure to declare $108,000 in travelers' checks on customs form.  At trial, defense expert Dr. Aloysius Lugira seeks to testify re tribal cultural traits and customs, including modes of nonverbal communication, and defendant's general linguistic aptitude.  District court excludes testimony and jury convicts.  Exclusion affirmed.  Defendant says testimony would have assisted jury in assessing his ability to understand customs forms.  But district court did not abuse discretion in concluding that witness's testimony was grounded primarily in anecdotal experiences and was "speculative at best."  Nor did jury require expert testimony to evaluate whether person whose primary language is not English might have difficulty understanding bureaucratic forms.

United States v. Tin Yat Chin, 371 F.3d 31 (2d Cir. 2004).  On trial for impersonating federal officer in immigration scam, defendant offers expert testimony from linguist Julie Tay, who opines that it would be extremely difficult for defendant, who is native Cantonese speaker, to fake Mandarin accent that government's witnesses attribute to impersonator.  District court limits expert to testimony re differences between Cantonese and Mandarin.  Jury convicts.  Exclusion affirmed.  District court permissibly concluded that 25-minute interview where defendant spoke Mandarin for only 15 seconds, coupled with general assumptions about native Cantonese speakers' exposure to Mandarin in 1950's and 1960's, did not supply sufficient facts or data for expert to opine that defendant could not simulate Mandarin accent.  But because verdict is reversed on other grounds, defendant's expert should have opportunity to submit new proffer on remand, addressing trial court's Rule 702 concerns.

Durkin v. Equifax Check Servs., Inc., 406 F.3d 410 (7th Cir. 2005) (see the briefs).  Was defendant's debt collection letter unacceptably confusing under Fair Debt Collection Practices Act?  To show it was, plaintiffs offer testimony from English professor and linguist Allan Metcalf.  District court excludes testimony and awards summary judgment to defendants.  Exclusion affirmed.  Expert's readability analysis worked from text of entire letter, rather than allegedly misleading portion singled out by plaintiffs as forming basis for their claim.  Expert offered no methodological basis for his other conclusions.  No abuse of discretion. 

United States v. Ocho-Zaragoza, No. 99-4051 (10th Cir. Feb. 17, 2000) (unpublished).  Hispanic defendant offers linguist, Dr. Steven Sternfeld, to testify that defendant lacked sufficient English comprehension to carry on extended conversation.  District court permits that opinion, but excludes testimony from linguist re defendant's ability to comprehend police during two specific conversations.  Exclusion affirmed.  District court did not abuse discretion, given that expert was not present during conversations at issue.

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