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Solvent defendant must pay for interpreter

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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A solvent, non-English speaking defendant in a criminal case must pay for a defense interpreter, but the court will continue to provide for proceedings interpreters at the public's expense, ruled the Indiana Supreme Court, upholding a previous decision by the Indiana Court of Appeals.

The high court granted transfer to Jesus Arrieta v. State of Indiana, No. 10S05-0704-CR-139, to determine whether Arrieta was entitled to a court-funded defense interpreter. Arrieta, who did not speak English, was charged with dealing cocaine, a Class A felony. Arrieta, who posted a $50,000 bond and hired an attorney for the hearing, received a court-appointed interpreter at his initial hearing June 14, 2005.

In late August 2005, the court advised Arrieta's attorney that Arrieta needed to hire his own interpreter at his expense for future hearings because the court does not provide interpreters unless the defendant can show indigency. Arrieta objected and showed up at his pre-trial hearing without one.

The trial court denied Arrieta's motion to provide translator services, which requested a publicly funded court interpreter for all future hearings. The court ruled Arrieta had the burden to show he is unable to pay for a translator, which he did not prove.

The Indiana Supreme Court granted transfer after the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's decision.

Non-English speakers have a right to have court proceedings translated simultaneously to allow for effective participation. A non-English speaking criminal defendant's rights can't be preserved without the assistance of a "defense interpreter," wrote Chief Judge Randall T. Shepard. However, the public should not pay for the defense interpreter when the non-English speaking defendant is solvent.

Indiana statute doesn't address interpreter fees in criminal proceedings, but the high court agrees with the Indiana Court of Appeals that solvent defendants are not entitled to court-funded interpreters, at least in the absence of affirmative legislation, wrote Chief Justice Shepard.

Arrieta did not present any evidence that he was indigent and the only evidence on record about his financial ability is that he paid a $50,000 bond and hired his own attorney. He had ample opportunity to show his inability to pay, but did not, so Arrieta is required to pay for his own defense interpreter.

In regards to who should pay for proceedings interpreters, the Supreme Court again agreed with the Court of Appeals that these interpreters should be court-funded. Proceedings interpreters serve the whole court and are necessary to ensure intelligible and fair proceedings.

"Just as a trial cannot proceed without a judge or bailiff, an English-speaking court cannot consider non-English testimony without an interpreter," wrote Chief Justice Shepard. "This analogy suggests that the government should provide proceedings interpreters when necessary in criminal proceedings, whether the witness has been called by the prosecution or the defense, and we perceive this as the practice now prevailing."
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