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Judges extend due process safeguards regarding interpreters to civil cases

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A trial court must take the same steps in a civil action as it does in a criminal action regarding the use of an interpreter in order to address due process concerns, the Indiana Court of Appeals held for the first time Tuesday.

The appellate court had to determine whether mother Saba Tesfamariam’s due process rights were violated during a hearing dissolving her marriage to Moghes Woldehaimanot. Both parties are from Africa and their native language is Tigrinya. Tesfamariam can’t speak English fluently, but she was taking English classes. Woldehaimanot is able to speak English fluently enough to communicate without an interpreter.

Tesfamariam requested an interpreter for the final hearing regarding Woldehaimanot’s petition for dissolution of marriage, but later told the trial court she was willing to proceed without one. But the trial court provided her one because it was “easy to do.” The trial court used Language Line, the telephone interpretation service funded by the Indiana Supreme Court.

The court awarded Woldehaimanot sole legal and physical custody of the children with Tesfamariam receiving parenting time.

Tesfamariam argued on appeal that she was denied due process because the trial court failed to administer an oath to her interpreter or ensure that the interpreter was properly qualified as an expert. Relying on Mariscal v. State, 687 N.E.2d 378, 382 (Ind. Ct. App. 1997), which addressed these issues for criminal court, the appellate court found the trial court abused its discretion by not establishing that the interpreter was qualified and by failing to administer an oath to provide an accurate translation.

The due process implications in this case are substantial, and it’s appropriate to require the same procedural safeguards as in criminal cases, wrote Judge Patricia Riley in Saba Tesfamariam v. Moghes Woldehaimanot, No. 49A02-1009-DR-1050.

Tesfamariam never objected to the interpreter errors at trial and later claimed that those errors were fundamental and not subject to waiver. The judges relied on caselaw to hold that a failure to establish the qualifications of an interpreter or to administer an oath is not a fundamental error.

There were times that the interpreter could not hear the trial, but the judges noted this was the result of technical issues and the interpreter always asked for clarification.

The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s decision to award full custody of the two children to Woldehaimanot.

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  • Learned Helplessness?
    The opinion states that Saba is a United States citizen. How can she be naturalized with so few English language skills that she needs an interpreter?

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  1. Im very happy for you, getting ready to go down that dirt road myself, and im praying for the same outcome, because it IS sometimes in the childs best interest to have visitation with grandparents. Thanks for sharing, needed to hear some positive posts for once.

  2. Been there 4 months with 1 paycheck what can i do

  3. our hoa has not communicated any thing that takes place in their "executive meetings" not executive session. They make decisions in these meetings, do not have an agenda, do not notify association memebers and do not keep general meetings minutes. They do not communicate info of any kind to the member, except annual meeting, nobody attends or votes because they think the board is self serving. They keep a deposit fee from club house rental for inspection after someone uses it, there is no inspection I know becausee I rented it, they did not disclose to members that board memebers would be keeping this money, I know it is only 10 dollars but still it is not their money, they hire from within the board for paid positions, no advertising and no request for bids from anyone else, I atteended last annual meeting, went into executive session to elect officers in that session the president brought up the motion to give the secretary a raise of course they all agreed they hired her in, then the minutes stated that a diffeerent board member motioned to give this raise. This board is very clickish and has done things anyway they pleased for over 5 years, what recourse to members have to make changes in the boards conduct

  4. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  5. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

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