Tuesday, February 26, 2002
Interpreter’s Out-of-Court Statement Not Double Hearsay—S.C.
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
A bystander’s out-of-court translation of a victim’s statement to police officers is not inadmissible multiple hearsay when introduced at a preliminary hearing, the state Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
The officers reciting of the interpreter’s statement, translating the witness, does not interpose a layer of hearsay but merely uses the unbiased bystander as a “language conduit,” the court ruled.
The ruling overturns earlier decisions of the high court that barred such statements made via translators and upholds the use of such testimony in the preliminary hearing of Azucena Correa.
Correa was charged with assault during a Westminster domestic disturbance on Nov. 30, 1999. Westminster police officers arrived at the scene and questioned Patricia Gil, who spoke only Spanish. The officers apparently were not conversant in Spanish.
The answers were supplied with the help of Higinia Garcia, a bilingual neighbor.
Also questioned was Miguel Gil, the brother of Patricia Gil, who also spoke only Spanish. His statements were translated at the scene by Hector Garcia, the son of Higinia Garcia.
The officers testified at the preliminary hearing, as did Garcia. Garcia said she was not certain whether she spoke English fluently, but the magistrate ruled that she was.
Correa was charged in the incident and brought a Penal Code Sec. 999 motion to set aside the information, contending that the testimony of the officers at the preliminary hearing relating the statements of Patricia and Miguel Gil was inadmissible because the translation added a layer of hearsay that was not covered by an statutory exception.
The motion was rejected, and Correa was granted a writ by the Fourth District Court of Appeal. The appeals panel deemed the translated statements to be inadmissible double hearsay and held that without it, there was insufficient evidence to hold the defendant for trial.
But the high court, in a unanimous opinion authored by Chief Justice Ronald George, disagreed.
George noted that Proposition 115, adopted by voters in 1990, allowed the preliminary hearing probable cause finding to be made on the sworn testimony of law enforcement officers relating witnesses’ out-of-court statements.
That initiative makes preliminary hearings limited in function, George said, no longer used by defendants for discovery and trial preparation but only to determine whether there is probable cause that the defendant committed a felony and should be held for trial.
The use of a translator has been found by courts to be valid where the translator is an agent of the party offering the statement, George said, but also in some cases in which the translator was simply a bystander.
So long as there is no motive to mislead and the translator is competent in both languages, he said, the person can be trusted as a sort of “language conduit,” and not a new person giving a new statement.
Earlier decisions expressed skepticism about such use, he acknowledged. But he noted that courts have come to accept interpreters in all aspects of their proceedings without treating them as new witnesses.
“We note that unlike the legal setting in which our early cases were decided, contemporary constitutional and statutory provisions reflect support for the widespread use of interpreters in judicial proceedings, a system that would be extremely difficult to sustain if a court reporter’s record of interpreted testimony were to be considered inadmissible in subsequent proceedings and the interpreter were required to testify regarding the accuracy of earlier interpretations.”
A contrary rule would “seriously and needlessly limit the scope of the relevant and reliable evidence that would be admissible in judicial proceedings in our state,” he said, where many languages are spoken.
Justice Carlos Moreno issued a separate concurring opinion to emphasize that the ruling does not alter the defendant’s Confrontation Clause rights at the preliminary hearing.
The case is Correa v. Superior Court, People RPI, S093476.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company