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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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  1. Why in the world would someone need a person to correct a transcript when a realtime court reporter could provide them with a transcript (rough draft) immediately?

  2. If the end result is to simply record the spoke word, then perhaps some day digital recording may eventually be the status quo. However, it is a shallow view to believe the professional court reporter's function is to simply report the spoken word and nothing else. There are many aspects to being a professional court reporter, and many aspects involved in producing a professional and accurate transcript. A properly trained professional steno court reporter has achieved a skill set in a field where the average dropout rate in court reporting schools across the nation is 80% due to the difficulty of mastering the necessary skills. To name just a few "extras" that a court reporter with proper training brings into a courtroom or a deposition suite; an understanding of legal procedure, technology specific to the legal profession, and an understanding of what is being said by the attorneys and litigants (which makes a huge difference in the quality of the transcript). As to contracting, or anti-contracting the argument is simple. The court reporter as governed by our ethical standards is to be the independent, unbiased individual in a deposition or courtroom setting. When one has entered into a contract with any party, insurance carrier, etc., then that reporter is no longer unbiased. I have been a court reporter for over 30 years and I echo Mr. Richardson's remarks that I too am here to serve.

  3. A competitive bid process is ethical and appropriate especially when dealing with government agencies and large corporations, but an ethical line is crossed when court reporters in Pittsburgh start charging exorbitant fees on opposing counsel. This fee shifting isn't just financially biased, it undermines the entire justice system, giving advantages to those that can afford litigation the most. It makes no sense.

  4. "a ttention to detail is an asset for all lawyers." Well played, Indiana Lawyer. Well played.

  5. I have a appeals hearing for the renewal of my LPN licenses and I need an attorney, the ones I have spoke to so far want the money up front and I cant afford that. I was wondering if you could help me find one that takes payments or even a pro bono one. I live in Indiana just north of Indianapolis.

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