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Translated transcripts necessary for jury

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A trial court didn’t abuse its discretion when it admitted transcripts translated into English of drug transactions recorded in Spanish because the jury wouldn’t be able to understand the recording, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled.

Noe Romo challenged the admission of the English transcripts of drug transactions he participated in with a confidential informant in Spanish. Romo, who was convicted of three counts of Class A felony dealing in cocaine, claimed the transcripts could only be admitted and given to the jury if the recordings were admitted and played for the jury. Romo’s attorney at trial argued that Grimes v. State, 633 N.E.2d. 262, 264 (Ind. Ct. App. 1994) says transcripts can only be used to help a jury understand audio tapes, but the trial judge saw no point in playing the Spanish audio when the jury wouldn’t be able to understand it. The judge allowed the transcripts as a substitute because they will “help the trier of fact.” The jury only received the transcripts, but both the transcripts and recordings were admitted into evidence.

In Bryan v. State, 450 N.E.2d 53, 59 (Ind. 1983), the Indiana Supreme Court explicitly discussed that transcripts “may” be necessary when audio is inaudible or to identify speakers, but it also left open the door for other possible circumstances.

“Today, we find that the instant facts present yet a third scenario - one in which the audio recording is not ‘[t]he best evidence of the conversation’ because the recording features a language that is beyond the comprehension of the entire jury,” wrote Judge Carr Darden in Noe Romo v. State of Indiana, No. 49A04-1003-CR-143.

Given that it was unlikely that the jury would understand enough Spanish and the idiom of the language at issue to understand the recordings, the trial court acted reasonably and within its discretion to give jurors copies of the transcript, the judge continued. There was no abuse of discretion in finding that playing the Spanish recordings as the jury read the English transcripts would not have helped the jury understand the audio and would have been a waste of judicial resources.

The appellate court affirmed that the state laid the proper foundation to establish the accuracy of the transcripts, that Romo wasn’t prejudiced by the admission of the transcripts, and that there was no error in admitting a detective’s opinion testimony. The appellate court inferred based on the detective’s position on the drug task force and his elevated rank that the detective had knowledge beyond that of the average juror regarding narcotics and was sufficiently familiar enough with the language of drug trafficking to provide testimony on the meaning of drug-dealing terms used by Romo in Spanish.
 

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