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7th Circuit: Attorney provided effective assistance to man facing drug charges

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a defendant’s argument that his trial attorney was ineffective because he failed to object to an interpreter arrangement during a witness’s testimony and chose not to have all of discovery translated into Spanish.

Gabriel Mendoza is serving a life sentence after being convicted of drug conspiracy and other drug offenses in federal court in South Bend. Attorney Mark Lenyo was appointed to represent Mendoza at trial. Mendoza wanted all discovery translated into Spanish, but given the volume of it, Lenyo instead summarized the discovery and had the court-appointed interpreter translate that for Mendoza.

Mendoza claimed in Gabriel v. Mendoza v. United States of America, 13-3195, 13-3196, that this decision, along with Lenyo’s failure to object to allowing one of Mendoza’s two court-appointed interpreters to move from the defense table closer to a witness to translate, resulted in ineffective assistance. Because Mendoza’s common-law wife Aurora Virruta also needed a translator and the court did not have one for witnesses, interpreter Ana Maria Toro-Greiner provided translation for Virruta while Susannah Bueno stayed at the defense table with Mendoza. Mendoza did not raise any concerns with this arrangement at trial.

The 7th Circuit affirmed the denial of Mendoza’s Section 2255 petition for relief.

“We have no reason to dispute the experienced trial judge’s credibility determinations. Given his findings that Leyno was ‘quite believable’ and Mendoza was ‘painfully unbelievable,’ there is no basis to think the judge made a mistake in finding that an interpreter was at the defense table during Virruta’s testimony. Because an interpreter was available to interpret communications between Mendoza and Lenyo at all times during Virruta’s testimony, Mendoza’s due process claim fails,” Judge John Tinder wrote.  

“Regarding counsel’s failure to object to the interpreter arrangement during Virruta’s testimony, Mendoza runs head-on into the district court’s finding that an interpreter was at the defense table and available to Mendoza for communications with counsel. Based on this finding, Mendoza’s rights were not infringed and Lenyo was not deficient in failing to object to the arrangement in which one interpreter was moved near the witness stand. But even if we were to find clear error in the district court’s finding as to the second interpreter’s location at the defense table, and assume that counsel was deficient in failing to object or ask for an alternative arrangement, such as multiple breaks during Virruta’s testimony, the claim still fails because Mendoza cannot show that counsel’s performance prejudiced the defense,” Tinder wrote.
 

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