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Arizona Court Upholds Admission of Statement Made By Non-Native English Speaker Without a Translator or Attorney

In December of last year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in an Arizona theft case involving a question about the admissibility of the defendant’s confession. Specifically, the court had to determine if the fact that the defendant, who did not speak English, validly waived her constitutional rights before agreeing to make a statement. Ultimately, the court concluded that the defendant was “adequately informed” of her Miranda rights, and affirmed her conviction.

According to the court’s opinion, detectives were investigating a claim that a person was making unauthorized withdrawals from an elderly woman’s account. Through their investigation, the detectives ended up arresting the defendant, a non-native English speaker who was originally from Thailand.

On the way to the police station, the detective spoke with the defendant to assess her fluency in English. She told him that she started to learn English in 1975, when she arrived in the United States, and that she had difficulty understanding the “hard words.” When they got to the station, the detective went over the defendant’s Miranda rights with her, a transcript of which was provided to the court. During the exchange, the defendant repeatedly explained that she did not understand what was going on, expressed an interest in not going to jail, and stated that maybe she should have an attorney present. After this initial exchange, the defendant provided a partial confession that eventually led to her conviction.

On appeal, the defendant challenged the admissibility of her confession, arguing that she was not adequately advised of her Miranda rights because she did not understand what the detective was telling her. The defendant pointed to the transcript, where she expressed her confusion and desire to have an attorney.

The court, however, rejected the defendant’s motion, affirming her conviction. The court explained that the defendant was correct in that a statement can only be admitted into evidence if the person making it was advised of their constitutional rights. The court went on to explain that it is only when a person “voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently” waives that right that law enforcement is allowed to discuss the case with them. However, the court also noted that “poor linguistic abilities, standing alone, do not invalidate an otherwise knowing and intelligent waiver.”

Here, the court determined that the “totality of the circumstances” supported a finding that the defendant was “fairly conversant” in English. The court also noted that she never requested a Thai interpreter, and that no previous case law suggests an interpreter must be provided to suspects who are reasonably fluent in English.

Have You Been Arrested after Making a Statement to Police?

If you have recently been arrested after making a statement to police officers or detectives, contact Attorney James E. Novak for immediate assistance. Attorney Novak is a dedicated Tempe criminal defense attorney with extensive experience representing clients in all types of serious criminal matters, including Arizona theft cases. Over the course of his career, Attorney Novak has successfully represented thousands of clients. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation with Attorney Novak, call 480-413-1499 today.