Lost in Language – Defendant Struggles to Understand Details of Plea Bargain

By Allison Hodge

SACRAMENTO, CA – Satnam Singh accepted a plea bargain in a robbery case here in Sacramento County Superior Court Monday after much back and forth between the Punjabi translator and Judge Patrick Marlette.

Singh faced charges on two separate cases, one for second-degree robbery and preventing a victim from filing a police report, and another for receiving and driving a known stolen vehicle. Assistant Public Defender Kyra Nickell moved to dismiss the latter charge.

Though few details were given as to the factual basis of the robbery, Singh admitted in a plea of no contest to the allegation that, on March 28, he attempted to prevent a named victim from making a police report to officers at an Amtrak station in Sacramento County.

The agreed plea deal includes 180 days in county jail and a two-year probation sentence in place of the maximum punishment of three years in state prison. Singh already received credit for 180 days time-served.

Deputy District Attorney Colin Stephenson joined in the agreement, and Judge Marlette began reading the consequences of the plea and the defendant’s trial rights. And it was no easy task.

Through Punjabi interpreter Gurinder Aujla, Singh expressed confusion and concern over the restitution fines and giving up his rights to trial, despite Judge Marlette’s best attempts to simplify the language.

The defendant stated that he was concerned about having to pay any restitution to the victim in this case, and explained that he was still looking for work after getting out of jail. Judge Marlette assured the defendant that the restitution would be decided at a later date, and not to worry about the amount just yet.

As Judge Marlette attempted to read Singh his rights, however, the defendant again seemed confused as to why he had to give up certain rights to proceed with a plea bargain.

When asked if he gave up his trial rights, Singh did not answer the question and responded, “Yes, I don’t want to fight this case, so I will take this plea.”

When the defendant asked what exactly he was giving up, Judge Marlette again began to read him his rights, despite Nickell’s attempt to pass the case so she could explain to the defendant the circumstances of his plea.

In an attempt to make the situation clearer, Judge Marlette then asked Singh if he had ever seen trials on television, and explained that trials and witness testimony like those on T.V. would not happen. Judge Marlette asked, “I’m going to be very specific with you. Do you waive those rights?”

Singh finally responded simply with, “Yes, I give up those rights.”

Judge Marlette then accepted the agreement, found a factual basis for the plea, and found the defendant guilty for sentencing purposes, based on the admitted charges.

In closing, Singh made clear, “Everything has been messed up for me…I want the court to understand that I am trying to put my life together.”

Judge Marlette ordered Singh to report to probation by the end of the day Tuesday, and no further proceedings were scheduled.

About The Author

Allison is a rising senior at UC Davis, majoring in History and Political Science. She is originally from Clovis, CA, and is pursuing a career in civil rights and/or constitutional law.

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