Today, roughly 45 million of the U.S. population speaks Spanish as their first or second language. Providing these individuals with vital information in their native language is a problem many government institutions face, including the juridical system. English to Spanish legal translation services are of course provided by the court, but until recently, there was still one vital moment where no proper standardized translation was available – the reading of Spanish Miranda Rights. The official standardized Miranda Spanish translation is now a requirement for police officers serving the Spanish speaking community.
“Silento” is Spanish for… “Silent”?
In Miranda v. Arizona case of 1966, the Supreme Court ruled that detained criminal suspects, prior to police questioning, must be informed of their constitutional right to an attorney and against self-incrimination. If the suspect does not speak English, the Miranda Rights must be translated into a language that they understand. But what if the police officer does not speak Spanish? Informing a suspect using high school Spanish is simply not enough in this case. Some agencies have started giving their police officers cards with the Spanish Miranda Rights translation, or “la advertencia Miranda”, to carry with them as a solution. However these translations are often riddled with mistakes. For example, some Spanish Miranda Rights translations claimed that attorneys are “liberated”, rather than “free” (of charge), others translated the English word “questioning” into “interview” or “interrogation” in Spanish. In the worst cases, the translations had words that don’t exist in Spanish. For example, in one translation of the English phrase “You have the right to remain silent” , the word “silent” was translated into Spanish as “silento” rather than “silencio.” An English word most likely adapted into Spanish by a native English speaker who is not a bilingual translator!
Not being told of their rights before questioning may not immediately terminate a case, as many people believe, but whatever was said during the questioning can no longer be used as evidence in a court of law. This also holds true if a suspect’s Miranda Rights have not been made clear to them in their native language. In several cases, attorneys have argued against evidence, as their clients had not adequately been made aware of their rights before they had access to either their attorney or proper Spanish legal translation services which would have informed them of their rights. And in most of these cases, they won.
The Push for a Standard Spanish Miranda Rights Translation
The American Bar Association (ABA) is pushing for an official standardized translation of the Miranda Warning to end the confusion once and for all. During the ABA annual meeting in San Francisco last year, focus was put on the Miranda Warning as it celebrated its 50th anniversary since the Miranda v Arizona Supreme Court decision was passed obligating police officers to read it out loud at the time of arrest. During the meeting, Resolution 110, which “urges federal, state, local and territorial law-enforcement authorities to provide a culturally substantively and accurate translation of the Miranda Warning in Spanish” was passed.
This shows that providing English to Spanish legal translation services as well as court approved Spanish interpreters may simply not be enough, especially with a fast growing native Spanish speaking community. Moreover, the Miranda Warning will eventually need to be translated into several other native languages of dominant immigrant groups in the United States, something that the ABA may have to deal with in the near future.
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