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Spanish-speaking man did not waive rights in plea, justices hold

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A non-native English speaker was able to show the Indiana Supreme Court that, during his guilty plea hearing, he was not properly advised of the constitutional rights he was waiving by pleading guilty. The justices reversed the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief.

Victor Ponce agreed to plead guilty to one count of Class A felony delivery of cocaine within 1,000 feet of a school. He had an interpreter during his guilty plea hearing. She was uncertified because in 1999, at the time of his hearing, Indiana had not yet created the Court Interpreter Certification Program. Ponce told the court he understood and spoke a little English. He indicated he was able to understand the proceedings through his interpreter.

In 2011, he filed a petition for post-conviction relief, contending his plea was not entered knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily because the interpreter failed to accurately translate Ponce’s Boykin rights.  The post-conviction court denied the petition, which the Court of Appeals affirmed.

“Here there is no question that the trial court correctly articulated the specific rights enumerated in Boykin. The problem, however, is that those rights were inaccurately interpreted. Ponce may very well have understood exactly what the interpreter said but as the record shows what the interpreter said had little to do with what the trial court had actually advised,” Justice Robert Rucker wrote in Victor Ponce v. State of Indiana, 20S04-1308-PC-533. “Had the trial court uttered the words relayed to Ponce by the interpreter, we doubt that a court of review would hesitate to declare that Ponce had not been given his Boykin advisements. Thus, we are of the view that an advisement from the mouth of the court-appointed interpreter instead of that of the trial judge to be a distinction without a difference. In sum, we conclude that Ponce has demonstrated that his 1999 guilty plea hearing was not conducted in accordance with the mandates of Boykin,” he continued.

And the justices found the state failed to show that the record, as a whole, nonetheless demonstrated that Ponce understood his constitutional rights and waived them. They remanded his case for further proceedings.

“To declare that a defendant with limited English proficiency who received an incorrect interpretation of the trial court’s Boykin advisements should be equally culpable for his guilty plea as a defendant who is fluent in the English language and received an accurate and uninterrupted advisement directly from the trial court would work a great injustice not only on the LEP defendant, but on the integrity of our system as a whole,” Rucker wrote.

 

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