ILNews

Justices remand to see if defendant had accurate interpreting

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The Indiana Supreme Court ordered the post-conviction court to hold a new hearing for a Mexican man who claimed he didn’t mean to plead guilty to two felonies and did so only because of faulty interpreting in court.

Efren Diaz, whose native language is Spanish, was arrested and charged with two felony drug possession counts. His attorney, David Newman, used the firm’s interpreter to communicate with Diaz. Beatrice Lara was appointed by the court as the interpreter for the guilty plea hearing. She was a native English speaker but said she learned Spanish from her father and translated for courts about 20 times.

During the hearing, Diaz claimed to understand what was being interpreted to him and pleaded guilty to the two charges. After reading a newspaper article about his plea, he questioned whether he actually understood that he was pleading guilty to two counts; he intended to plead guilty to just one. He believed the guilty plea hearing hadn’t been properly translated.

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed on direct appeal, but remanded for re-sentencing. During his hearing before the post-conviction court, the court wouldn’t allow a chart into evidence prepared by his witness, Christina Courtright, a certified interpreter with the Indiana Supreme Court’s Division of State Court Administration. Her chart illustrated her conclusions that there were problems with the interpretation of the hearing and showed the English words spoken by the trial judge and the English equivalent of what the interpreter actually said in Spanish. The post-conviction court didn’t allow it on the basis of hearsay and denied his petition for relief.

In Efren R. Diaz v. State of Indiana, No. 20S05-0911-PC-521, the justices agreed that the chart should have been admitted. Courtright’s benefit of her expertise was hindered by the exclusion of the chart, which was a demonstrative exhibit prepared to facilitate a complete and accurate summary of her conclusions after reviewing the recording of Diaz’s guilty plea hearing.

The state admitted that there was evidence of a "mix up” in the translation at the guilty plea hearing, but the evidence taken as a whole shows Diaz understood the guilty plea hearing. Diaz repeatedly said he had no trouble understanding the court at the time of his plea.

“Although Diaz answered that he did not, one may fully understand and even acknowledge to others an understanding of what is in actuality an inaccurate interpretation of the proceedings. Put another way, one can understand perfectly the words spoken by an interpreter who tells you the wrong thing,” wrote Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard.

The high court concluded that just as procedures contemplate appointing independent psychiatrists when a court doubts a defendant’s competence to stand trial, the court may need to appoint its own competent, disinterested expert when it has reason to believe there is an interpretation issue.

Since the evidence before the post-conviction court doesn’t reveal whether Diaz was provided with accurate interpreting, the justices ordered the trial court to commission its own translation of the plea and sentencing hearings, then the post-conviction court will rehear the evidence the parties find pertinent to the question of whether Diaz’s plea was voluntary and intelligent.

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  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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