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April 23, 07

NEWS / EDITORIAL: State owes defendants translators


Picture yourself in a foreign land where you canít speak the language, and youíve just been arrested for a crime. Itís a scary situation without the power to understand or communicate. When you come before a judge, it would be helpful if a translator were on hand to keep you informed if the charges and proceedings.


But Indiana doesnít require this translator. In fact, if a defendant wants a translator, it has to be at the defendantís expense. What if a defendant canít afford this luxury? Some counties, such as Allen, provide translators, but itís not required. Should it be?

The Indiana Supreme Court is set to hear arguments that the cost of a translator should be picked up by the state, similar to a public defender. It amounts to what a defendant can afford. Public defenders are appointed by the court if a defendant canít afford a lawyer.

The current case involves Jesus Arrieta, the accused in a drug case out of Clark County. Arrieta was given a translator for some of the proceedings, but at one point Judge Cecile Blau ruled that if Arrieta wanted a translator he would have to pay for one. Arrieta had hired his own attorney.

Stephen Beardsley, lawyer for Arrieta, said the practice discriminates against those who canít speak English. The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld Blauís decision, sidestepping the issue by saying the state Legislature ought to set the policy, not the courts.

According to the Associated Press, Kentucky does pay for translators, to the tune of $1.37 million in 2006. Allen County paid $92,624 for translators last year in such languages as Spanish, French, Arabic, Burmese, Vietnamese, Bosnian and Mai Mai (the language of Somalia).

As we become a global community, people are going to be moving around freely, following jobs and families to different lands. Many will arrive not knowing the language. Many, before they learn that language, may fall into the criminal justice system.

We feel those people are owed a translator, at the stateís expense, to decipher the myriad legal conditions the defendant finds himself in.

By going in front of a judge, a person can be stripped of rights and property, even life. Because of the serious ramifications facing a defendant, he should have all legal assistance possible to ensure a fair trial, which is the hallmark of U.S. justice, whether the defendant is a citizen or not.

The U.S. Constitution also assumes the accused is innocent.

There arenít many areas in life where the gravity of a situation is so important to a personís well being. A translator seems like a small price for the state to pay to ensure the accused has all the tools necessary for a defense. We hope the Indiana Supreme Court rules this way and doesnít pass the buck by relying on the Legislature.



 




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