Court Rules Miranda Rights Must Be Given In Correct Spanish

You have the right to have your rights read to you correctly in Spanish, at least that’s what a three-judge panel circuit court has ruled in San Francisco.

In overturning the marijuana and weapons convictions of an Oregon man who received an incorrect rendition, a federal appeals court ruled that criminal defendants must have their Miranda rights precisely translated into Spanish if that is their first language.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a federal trial judge improperly refused to suppress statements Jeronimo Botello-Rosales gave to Yamhill County sheriff's detectives after receiving the faulty Spanish warning and a proper Miranda reading in English.

"The Spanish-language warning administered to the defendant failed to reasonably convey his Miranda rights," the panel said in an opinion first issued in April but published for the first time Monday. "The fact that the officer had previously administered correct Miranda warnings in English does not cure the constitutional infirmity, absent government clarification as to which set of warnings was correct."

The panel said Botello-Rosales is therefore entitled to withdraw the guilty plea he entered to federal drug charges.

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Botello had confessed to growing hundreds of marijuana plants in the Yamhill County, Ore., with a group of others. He was indicted and pleaded guilty in 2009, according to court records. He has served about three years of a 10-year prison sentence for conspiracy to manufacture marijuana and illegally possessing a firearm.

Botello, who speaks no English and has little education, pleaded guilty on the condition that he be allowed to appeal the suppression issue.

The detective recited the warning in Spanish from memory, according to the ruling. Translated in English, it reads like this:

You have the right to remain silence. Anything you say can be used against you in the law. You have the right to talk to a lawyer and to have him present with you during the interview. If you don’t have the money to pay for a lawyer, you have the right. One, who is free, could be given to you.

The detective used the Spanish word “libre” to mean “free.” But libre in Spanish doesn’t mean “without cost.” It means “to have freedom.”

"This warning failed to reasonably convey the government's obligation to appoint an attorney for an indigent suspect who wishes to consult one," the 9th Circuit said.

Kent Robinson, first assistant U.S. attorney in Oregon, told the Wall Street Journal the detective who read the Miranda rights was a native Spanish speaker and believed Botello understood the warning.

“We don’t expect to further appeal, and we’ll certainly follow this in the future to avoid anything similar happening,” Robinson told the Journal.

According to the Journal, Michael R. Levine, Botello’s lawyer, said the mistakes would have gone unnoticed if not for an off-duty interpreter in the courtroom during a pretrial hearing in 2009.

At the hearing, Levine asked the detective to recall for the court the Miranda warning he had recited to Botello, a standard practice in a suppression hearing.

Levine asked the off-duty interpreter whether the warning as read by the detective was correct.

“I expected her to say that it was perfect,” Levine told the Journal. Instead, the interpreter pointed out two errors, silence instead of silent and the use of “libre.”

Includes reporting from The Associated Press.

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