Criminal Defense of Immigrants


§ 4.39 (E)

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(E)  Interpreter Misconduct.  An interpreter may improperly influence a plea of guilty.  In one case, a defendant claimed that in order to induce him to plead guilty, the interpreter for his counsel told him that pleading guilty would result in a three-month sentence, when in fact the judge sentenced him to ten years; remanded for an evidentiary hearing.[231]  On appeal, the court stated that “[w]hen the defendant and his counsel can communicate only through an intermediary, unprofessional conduct on the part of the intermediary can render counsel’s assistance wholly ineffective, even if counsel himself is acting in complete accordance with professional standards.”[232]  The court went on to say that “where the defendant pleads guilty on the advice of counsel, the accuracy and completeness of the interpreter’s translations becomes especially important, for the communication between the defendant and his counsel constitutes essentially the entire representation.”[233]  The court remanded the case for an evidentiary hearing with respect to the defendant’s claim that his guilty plea was not made knowingly, intelligently, understandingly or voluntarily.


                In one case, the court engaged in a detailed discussion of a number of cases on the issue of interpreter misconduct.  Although the court declined to decide the issue of whether the interpreter’s conduct could be imputed to the attorney, it condemned this type of misconduct by court-appointed interpreters.[234]


                It is also improper for an interpreter to offer editorial comments concerning the defendant, but this may not always be reversible.[235]


[231] Chacon v. Wood, 36 F.3d 1459 (9th Cir. 1994).

[232] Id. at 1464.

[233] Id. at n.1.

[234] Ledezma v. State, 626 N.W.2d 134 (Iowa 2001).

[235] United States v. Anguloa, 598 F.2d 1182 (9th Cir. 1979) (interpreter labelled defendant’s manner of speaking “mumbo-jumbo” but court found no prejudice).