Page last updated at 22:15 GMT, Thursday, 27 March 2008

Judge orders men to learn English

File image of someone reading an English dictionary
The three defendants must take an English test at the court next year

A judge in the US state of Pennsylvania has ordered three Spanish-speaking men to learn English or go to jail.

The trio, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit robbery, were told they could remain on parole if they studied English and got full-time jobs.

Judge Peter Olszewski said the unusual sentence was supposed to help the men. They will serve their full jail terms if they fail an English test in a year.

Lawyers for the three said they had not yet decided whether they would appeal.

Luis Reyes, Ricardo Dominguez and Rafael Guzman-Mateo, ranging in age from 17 to 22, all needed interpreters when they pleaded guilty at the Luzerne County court.

Police said they were in a group which had accosted two men on a street in May last year. The two said they had been asked if they had marijuana, hit on the head and threatened with a gun.

The Luzerne County judge sentenced the three defendants to jail terms of between four and 24 months but said they could be released on immediate parole provided they met his conditions.

The men have been ordered to return with their parole officers in 12 months' time to be tested on their reading and writing skills.

"If they don't pass, they're going in for the 24 [months]," Judge Olszewski said.

A lawyer for Guzman-Mateo was quoted by the Associated Press as saying his client was "happy" with the sentence and that it would probably help him.

A fourth defendant was not given immediate parole but remained in prison on an unrelated drugs charge.

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