Thursday, July 18, 2013
It is essential law enforcement officers advise criminal suspects of their rights and it is equally important the accused understand those rights.
But a ruling by a federal court regarding the reading of those rights, commonly referred to as a Miranda warning, puts unreasonable demands on law enforcement.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled suspects must be given Miranda warning precisely translated into Spanish if that is their first language.
As a result of the ruling convictions on drug and gun charges were overturned on the grounds that a district judge erred by admitting the suspect’s comments made after the Miranda warning was given to him in English and poorly-translated Spanish.
What is in dispute is a Spanish word used to explain the suspect had a right to an attorney even if he could not afford to pay. The police detective used the Spanish version of the word “free” that means “available, at liberty” instead of “at no cost.”
The court is correct that all suspects, regardless of their native language, must understand their rights.
The right to an attorney is linked to the right against self incrimination. These rights are vital as they can prevent authorities from coercing a confession.
The right to remain silent protects the innocent from being abused by the government.
Where the 9th Circuit Court went wrong was in its demand that rights be read in precise Spanish if Spanish is the suspect’s native language.
Does this mean those who speak Russian, Chinese, French, German, etc., etc., ... have the right to have their rights read in precise translations of their native language?
It would seem to be the case.
But doing so would be nearly impossible. There are thousands of different languages and variations on languages spoken around the world. Reading a suspect his rights in Chinese would require police to determine the exact dialect.
In addition, the 9th Circuit’s demand invites deception by suspects. Exactly what is or isn’t understood might be used as a way to have a conviction overturned.
Rather than requiring precise language of the suspect, it would be reasonable for police not to question a suspect unless police are convinced and prosecutors are satisfied the suspect understands his rights.
If the suspect does not seem to understand and tries to make a statement — as apparently occured in drug and gun convictions in question — police should stop him immediately and get him an attorney.
It might make prosecuting suspects more difficult, but it preserves suspects’ rights and reduces the chances of solid convictions being overturned.