Miranda rights are critical to protect an individual privilege against self-incrimination. When a defendant does not speak English, what is the process to make sure that a defendant is advised of their rights in Spanish or their native language.
In Commonwealth v. Oscar De Los Santos, the question of whether his Miranda rights are valid arises because they were not read to him in his first language, Spanish. A simple assumption about what was said in a language that witnesses do not understand cannot satisfy the Commonwealth’s burden of proving the Miranda requirement beyond a reasonable doubt. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court will address this issue in Commonwealth v. De Los Santos. The SJC hear oral argument on this case in March of 2023.
Spanish is the only language that Mr. de los Santos speaks and understands. In moving to suppress his statements before trial, Mr. de los Santos contended that he did not receive the Miranda warnings. The only pretrial evidence concerning Spanish-language warnings came from officers who cannot speak or understand Spanish.
Police officer David Noyes observed a gray Honda motor vehicle with two male occupants who looked at him wide-eyed, rolled through a stop sign, and made a quick right and accelerated without signaling. The officer noticed that the Honda’s license plate was hanging and was secured by a single screw. Upon learning that the Honda’s registered owner did not have a valid license, Officer Moody pulled up directly behind it as it was stopped at a red light; when the light turned green, the officer activated his signal lights to initiate a traffic stop. The Honda, which had been signaling a left turn, continued straight through the green light and did not stop at available locations it passed, instead turning left into the parking lot of a convenience store and parking in front of a building, slightly askew, taking up two parking spaces.
The defendant and the driver were placed under arrest. When they told the officers that they did not speak English well, a Spanish speaking officer from another police department was called to the scene; after that officer administered Miranda warnings in Spanish, the defendant and the driver appeared to understand.
On direct appeal, the defendant claims that his statements should have been suppressed because the Commonwealth failed to establish that the defendant received the Miranda warnings in the only language he speaks and understands. He claims that the motion judge incorrectly relied on testimony from officers who did not speak or understand Spanish to reach the conclusion that such warnings were properly issued. In reviewing a ruling on a motion to suppress, we accept the motion judge’s findings absent clear error, but we independently determine the judge’s application of constitutional principles to the facts as found.
The defendant argued in a post-hearing memorandum of law that he did not receive Miranda warnings and drew the court’s attention to the fact that the arrest report made no mention of the defendant receiving Miranda warnings in Spanish. The argument appears to be intended to persuade the judge to reject Officers Noyes and Moody’s testimony that the defendant was advised of his Miranda rights in Spanish. The judge, on the other hand, thought it unlikely that a Spanish-speaking officer would be called to the scene for the sole purpose of administering Miranda warnings and then fail to do so.