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COA reverses denial of translated version of hearing

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The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled that the post-conviction court abused its discretion when it denied a woman’s request to have access to the electronic recording of her guilty plea hearing.

In the case of Maria Patricia (Franco) Suarez v. State of Indiana, No. 02A05-1008-PC-508, Maria Suarez pleaded guilty to Class A misdemeanor criminal conversion at her initial hearing in 2006 through the aid of an interpreter that translated the proceedings from English to Spanish and vice versa. She had no counsel at the hearing.  In 2009, she requested and received a transcript of the hearing, but it contained only the part of the hearing that was conducted in English. Suarez thereafter filed a petition for post-conviction relief in November 2009, alleging that her guilty plea was not made knowingly, intentionally, and voluntarily.

In 2010, Suarez’s attorney – a native Spanish-speaker – was granted permission to listen to the recording of the hearing. Based on irregularities in the translation, Suarez requested the recording of the hearing. The PCR court denied that request.

Suarez then filed a more detailed request, stating that based on the irregularities reported by her counsel, she wanted an independent court-certified translator to translate the portions of the proceedings that were conducted in Spanish and were the subject of legal concern. The state did not object to Suarez’s request, and the PCR court granted the request with the understanding that a state-certified interpreter would be used for the translation and that the PCR court would “check with the administrative judge for the criminal division of the Allen Superior Court to verify” how to procedurally accomplish the request.

At the next status hearing, the PCR court reversed its ruling and stated the previously provided English-only transcript was the only transcript available. The court also informed the parties that the recording of the hearing was not available, and that the PCR court would not provide a translation of the Spanish portions of the hearing.  

In its reversal, the COA cited Indiana Post-Conviction Rule 1(5), “[a]ll rules and statutes applicable in civil proceedings including pre-trial and discovery procedures are available to the parties . . . .” It also cited Indiana Administrative Rule 9(D), which states that a guilty plea hearing is a public court record, and that Suarez’s record should have been available to her.

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