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Police must now record conversations with translators, SJC rules
Source: Boston Globe
SEPTEMBER 16, 2016
Police must now videotape conversations between non-English speakers and translators “where practicable” during questioning in order to assure a fair trial for the accused, the state’s highest court ruled for the first time Friday.
The Supreme Judicial Court issued the new protocol in the case of a Spanish-speaking woman arrested for drunken driving by Stoughton police, who later used a translator on speakerphone to provide instructions on using a breathalyzer.
The driver, Glenis A. Adonsoto, tried and failed three times to complete the test, and her failure was used against her in court. Convicted, she argued to the SJC the translator was inherently biased against her because the translator was being paid by the police.
The SJC took the facts of the case and issued a directive that now applies to every police department in the state.
“We now announce a new protocol to mitigate such concerns. Going forward, and where practicable, we expect that all interviews and interrogations using interpreter services will be recorded,’’ Justice Geraldine Hines wrote for the unanimous court that included three justices who are now retired.
The court said the videotaped conversation will allow judges and defense attorneys to assess whether translators performed accurately, whether they were flawed in what they said, and whether it was clear the people being questioned understood what they were being told.
“A recording allows defendants and judges to independently evaluate accuracy, and thus, the reliability of interpreter services,’’ Hines wrote. “We have long recognized that recording interviews and interrogations enhance reliability by providing a complete version of a defendant’s statements.’’
The SJC said the new rule is not expected to be a burden to police departments, pointing to a friend-of-the-court brief from the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association Inc. that said police frequently use translators via speakerphones in station houses.
“This protocol should not impose undue burden on police departments,” Hines wrote, noting that police are already required to record interrogations, which is usually done at station houses. “All that would be required is for police to conduct the speakerphone translation in a room equipped for recording and to engage the recording equipment.’’
The SJC said it will wait for another day before deciding whether a translator should be considered a prosecution witness subject to cross-examination during a trial under the constitutional right to confront witnesses.
While Adonsoto’s case created a new set of rules for law enforcement in Massachusetts, the SJC upheld her convictions, ruling the interpreter was not biased against her and that other information — including an officer seeing her drive through a four-way intersection without stopping — proved that she was operating under the influence.
Separately, a citizen followed her for 12 minutes and saw her weaving down the highway, she smelled of alcohol once she got out of the car, and she was unsteady on her feet, the SJC said.
“There is no indication that the interpreter, obtained through a third-party interpreter service, had any motive to distort the translation,’’ Hines wrote. “The Commonwealth presented sufficient evidence of diminished capacity.”
Adonsoto’s appellate attorney, Christopher DeMayo, declined comment on the ruling.
By John R. Ellement GLOBE STAFF. John R. Ellement can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.
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