The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday that when police read suspects their Miranda rights in Spanish, that warning must be translated correctly.
The ruling means a man who was previously convicted in Portland on drug and gun charges can be tried again, and statements he made to police cannot be used against him in court.
Before police interrogated Jeronimo Botello-Rosales, a detective read him his Miranda rights in both English and Spanish. The verbal warning, which advises people who are being interrogated by police of their rights — namely, that they have a right to remain silent, that their statements can be used against them in court, and they have the right to an attorney — was established in a landmark Supreme Court case in 1966.
The detective gave Botello-Rosales the correct warning in English.
But when the detective tried to say "If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you" in Spanish, he bungled the wording.
According to court documents, the detective's translation was the equivalent of:
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 that is the equivalent of "available." The appropriate Spanish word to mean "at no cost" would have been "gratis."
A three-judge panel ruled that wording didn't convey the government's obligation to appoint attorneys to poor defendants.
"The phrasing of the [Spanish] warning — that a lawyer who is free could be appointed — suggests that the right to appointed counsel is contingent on the approval of a request, or on the lawyer's availability, rather than the government's absolute obligation," read the court opinion.
The court also concluded that it was not sufficient that the detective gave the warning accurately in English.
"Even if Botello understood the English-language warnings, there is no indication in the record that the government clarified which set of warnings was correct."
The court ruled that any statements Botello-Rosales made after that botched Miranda warning can't be used in court against him.
The court vacated Botello-Rosales' conviction, and paved the way for him to withdraw his previous guilty plea and be retried.
The ruling applies in the Ninth Circuit's jurisdiction, which includes Arizona, California, Nevada and other Western states.