Gun crime conviction overturned ‘because of poor translation’

16/07/2013 | Hayley

A suspect in a gun and drug case in the US has had his conviction overturned on the grounds that his Miranda warning was improperly translated.

Jeronimo Botello-Rosales now has the right to withdraw the guilty plea he entered in the face of the federal drug charges. According to the ruling of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, although the Miranda warning was read in both English and Spanish by the detective, the Spanish translation did not correctly convey the defendant’s rights.

The Miranda Warning is designed to inform a suspect of his or her rights, including the right to plead the Fifth Amendment. Officers must inform a suspect of their right to remain silent prior to any interrogation taking place, that they have the right to have an attorney who they can consult with, and that anything they do say will be used against them in court. Suspects are expected to answer that they understand and being silent is not classed as a waiver of those rights.

Although the Miranda Warning did not become statute until a ruling by the Supreme Court in 1966, following the case of Miranda v Arizona, it is now something people across the world are familiar with. It is often heard in movies and TV shows and has even led to a new verb being coined: Mirandize.

However, despite so many people being familiar with the warning, it is still imperative it is given to every suspect ahead of being questioned as not doing so can result in their case being thrown out of court or overturned. It is not enough to simply read the warning out, but officers must also ensure that the suspect fully understands it and what their rights are.

In the Botello-Rosales case, the federal court of appeals ruled that the district judge overseeing the case made an error of judgement when they allowed comments to be heard that the suspect had made following the incorrectly-translated Spanish version of the Miranda Warning.

According to the Associated Press, the Spanish translation was made by a Spanish native speaker. The exact translation given was: “You have the right to remain silence. Anything you say can be used against you in the law. You have the right to talk to a lawyer and to have him present with you during the interview. If you don’t have the money to pay for a lawyer, you have the right. One, who is free, could be given to you.”

At the centre of the mistranslation was the word “libre”, which was used by officers to mean ‘at no cost’. However, expert witnesses at the appeals trial noted that “libre” actually means to have the freedom or right to do something. In English, the corresponding line of the Miranda Warning actually reads: “You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.”

The case highlights the importance of correctly translating the warning – and of ensuring a suspect has the means of following what is going on if they do not speak the same language as the police officers. Indeed, the court ruled that just because Botello-Rosales had been read the warning in English as well as the incorrect Spanish version, it was not enough to provide clarification to him on which one was correct.

In order for justice to be done in any conviction, it is vital that every party understands what is going on. This means having a qualified and professional interpreter in place.

In the UK, court interpreters have been in the news lately because of the spotlight that has been shone on the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) partnership with Capita. A five-year contract to provide all courtroom interpreting services in the UK was awarded by the MoJ to Applied Language Solutions (ALS) in January 2012 in an effort to reduce the ministry’s costs. Following this, ALS was acquired by Capita.

However, the deal has been beset with problems, including qualified interpreters choosing not to support it because of the reduced cover for expenses or lower fees. This has led to occasions where cases have had to be adjourned due to an interpreter not showing up or an under-qualified interpreter being used instead.

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