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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. I don't agree that this is an extreme case. There are more of these people than you realize - people that are vindictive and/or with psychological issues have clogged the system with baseless suits that are costly to the defendant and to taxpayers. Restricting repeat offenders from further abusing the system is not akin to restricting their freedon, but to protecting their victims, and the court system, from allowing them unfettered access. From the Supreme Court opinion "he has burdened the opposing party and the courts of this state at every level with massive, confusing, disorganized, defective, repetitive, and often meritless filings."

  2. So, if you cry wolf one too many times courts may "restrict" your ability to pursue legal action? Also, why is document production equated with wealth? Anyone can "produce probably tens of thousands of pages of filings" if they have a public library card. I understand this is an extreme case, but our Supreme Court really got this one wrong.

  3. He called our nation a nation of cowards because we didn't want to talk about race. That was a cheap shot coming from the top cop. The man who decides who gets the federal government indicts. Wow. Not a gentleman if that is the measure. More importantly, this insult delivered as we all understand, to white people-- without him or anybody needing to explain that is precisely what he meant-- but this is an insult to timid white persons who fear the government and don't want to say anything about race for fear of being accused a racist. With all the legal heat that can come down on somebody if they say something which can be construed by a prosecutor like Mr Holder as racist, is it any wonder white people-- that's who he meant obviously-- is there any surprise that white people don't want to talk about race? And as lawyers we have even less freedom lest our remarks be considered violations of the rules. Mr Holder also demonstrated his bias by publically visiting with the family of the young man who was killed by a police offering in the line of duty, which was a very strong indicator of bias agains the offer who is under investigation, and was a failure to lead properly by letting his investigators do their job without him predetermining the proper outcome. He also has potentially biased the jury pool. All in all this worsens race relations by feeding into the perception shared by whites as well as blacks that justice will not be impartial. I will say this much, I do not blame Obama for all of HOlder's missteps. Obama has done a lot of things to stay above the fray and try and be a leader for all Americans. Maybe he should have reigned Holder in some but Obama's got his hands full with other problelms. Oh did I mention HOlder is a bank crony who will probably get a job in a silkstocking law firm working for millions of bucks a year defending bankers whom he didn't have the integrity or courage to hold to account for their acts of fraud on the United States, other financial institutions, and the people. His tenure will be regarded by history as a failure of leadership at one of the most important jobs in our nation. Finally and most importantly besides him insulting the public and letting off the big financial cheats, he has been at the forefront of over-prosecuting the secrecy laws to punish whistleblowers and chill free speech. What has Holder done to vindicate the rights of privacy of the American public against the illegal snooping of the NSA? He could have charged NSA personnel with violations of law for their warrantless wiretapping which has been done millions of times and instead he did not persecute a single soul. That is a defalcation of historical proportions and it signals to the public that the government DOJ under him was not willing to do a damn thing to protect the public against the rapid growth of the illegal surveillance state. Who else could have done this? Nobody. And for that omission Obama deserves the blame too. Here were are sliding into a police state and Eric Holder made it go all the faster.

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