The last couple of weeks have been as incredibly busy as they were rewarding. I had the opportunity to serve as an expert witness in a state court, for a motion to suppress evidence obtained by a police officer who had used Google Translate to request consent to search from a Limited English Proficiency (LEP) driver. The motion was not granted, and that was expected, not because the defense didn’t have the actual good and valid point, but because sometimes the scales of justice are not necessarily calibrated and tend to lean a bit (or a lot) to one side. But that’s ok, because the important point is that there are still attorneys out there willing to fight for what is right, no matter how much they are told “that’s never gonna fly here! This is too conservative of a place!”. I’ve worked with plenty of conservative judges who are unbiased and impartial, and able to rule the right way no matter how much they might dislike having to go in the opposite direction to their political or personal beliefs. They simply do what a judge is supposed to do.
In 2018, the first motion to suppress was granted on these same bases. (United States v. Cruz-Zamora, 318 F. Supp. 3d 1264). In 2021, although the motion was not granted, a Pennsylvania District Court judge wrote that “while Google Translate was ‘a useful tool,’ and the police officer was able to obtain some information from the Spanish-speaking driver through the app, the app has ‘an alarming capacity for miscommunication and error.’ (United States v. Ramirez-Mendoza, 4:20-CR-00107 (M.D. Pa. Oct. 1, 2021). Even the Commonwealth of KY has argued their opposition to the use of machine translation: “…the Commonwealth challenges the circuit court's taking of judicial notice of the availability of electronic devices and cell phone apps to translate foreign languages. […] We are unwilling to trust—without question—a foreign language translation just because it was found on the internet. The internet, and access to it via cell phone, is a fantastic advancement, but by no means is it perfect and unquestionably accurate such that it is a proper basis on which to take judicial notice. Unless someone with knowledge of the particular foreign language thoroughly investigates the computer program, website or cell phone app, and assures its accuracy, we cannot endorse reliance on it. Languages have various dialects, and while citizens of several different countries speak Spanish, not all speak the same version. Even trained interpreters may disagree as to the proper translation of a phrase or paragraph. At some point, reliance on a foreign language translation computer program or cell phone app may be appropriate, but we have not been cited to one in this case. Thus, the circuit court erred in taking judicial notice of the fact of computer programs and cell phone apps being available to accurately translate foreign languages.” (Commonwealth ex rel. Logan Cnty. Attorney v. Williams, NO. 2018-CA-000304-MR, 23-24 (Ky. Ct. App. Sep. 20, 2019).
I couldn’t have said it any better…
Without these lawyers’ willingness to fight for what seems like a lost cause, there would not be new case-law, and there would be no reversal of the many wrong convictions that have taken place and will continue to take place in our country, there would be no RIGHT convictions either! Technically the rule of law would simply become an empty slogan. Just keep in mind that one of those wrongful convictions could be your own, or your loved one’s. As Idealist as this might sound, even in an adversarial system as ours, both parties are equally required and expected to fight for the same thing: justice. This is not just a game that one must win.
As much as people may say “rules are there to be broken”, when those broken rules can jeopardize a person’s most fundamental rights to “life, liberty and the security of his person” whether that be the victim’s or the defendant’s (who are technically innocent until proven guilty, not the other way around) we better hope we can have someone fighting to repair those broken rules, or else we are all doomed.
On my end, I will continue to do my job in an impartial way. Words are powerful, and I will continue educating myself to make sure that power is properly used.