By Wendy Moya
ALAMEDA, CA – The differences in language between the court and the defendant was on full display here in Alameda County Superior Court Wednesday, and—despite an interpreter—the language barrier caused a short disposition hearing to drag on and on.
Jose Argueta was ready to plead no contest to a DUI (driving under the influence) charge when Judge Yolanda Northridge began the procedure of reading Argueta his rights.
Assisted by a court interpreter, Judge Northridge asked him if he was aware that by accepting a plea deal, he’d be waiving away his rights to a speedy trial.
Argueta’s response: a very disoriented, “I’m sorry?”
Argueta does not speak English, only Spanish. His attorney, Elliot Silver, does not speak Spanish. Relying only on the court interpreter, Argueta was placed in an uncomfortable position.
When prompted once more whether he gave up that right, he responded, “No.”
The judge then informed Argueta that if he does not waive his right to a speedy trial, then they could not accept a plea deal.
The interpreter translated the judge’s words for Argueta, but he persisted. He responded “no” once more when asked whether he agreed to waive his rights in order to accept a plea deal.
His attorney interjected, telling Argueta that he only had two options: he could accept the plea or fight the charge through a trial. Silver reminded his client that when Argueta signed the plea form, it was a mutual agreement that he would accept the plea.
Silver continued, stating that it was necessary for Argueta to waive his rights in order to accept a plea deal. The interpreter translated Silver’s comment and Judge Northridge asked once more whether he agreed to waive his rights to a speedy trial.
Conflicted, Argueta responded, “I don’t know what to say.”
There was clearly a lack of communication between the attorney and the defendant, because, from this exchange, it became clear that Argueta was not aware of what he would be asked and how he should respond.
The judge then told the attorney that they would skip this matter and move on to a different case. The judge moved on while the attorney called his client.
After hearing a number of other cases without the use of an interpreter, Judge Northridge commented “language is an issue,” in reference to the difficulties Silver and Argueta faced in court that afternoon.
When Silver and Argueta returned, the hearing quickly picked up where it left off. Argueta was asked once again if he waived his rights in order to accept a plea deal.
Argueta responded once more, “I don’t know what to say.”
The interpreter stepped in and asked Argueta if he spoke another language besides Spanish. Argueta stated that he only spoke Spanish.
Judge Northridge addressed Argueta and asked him if he had ever seen any crime tv shows or movies. Argueta had confirmed that he had.
Judge Northridge continued to explain that any scene with a “bad guy” in front of a jury trial would be what he would go through if he didn’t waive his rights and rejected the plea agreement.
After some mediation from the interpreter, Argueta waived his rights and accepted the plea deal.
He was tasked with completing a three-month DUI program, 30 days house arrest, and a three-year probation.