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Massachusetts Supreme Court Suppresses Evidence Obtained After Miranda Warnings Translated into Spanish Deemed Incapable of Conveying Meaningful Advice

by David Reutter

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts affirmed the suppression of custodial statements where the translation of Miranda warnings into Spanish was inadequate to apprise the defendant of his rights. The Court also reversed the denial of the suppression of evidence taken from the defendant’s cellphone because the consent to search was based on the inadequate warnings. Finally, the Court suppressed cell-site location information (“CSLI”) because the affidavit in support of the search warrant failed to establish probable cause.

The case was before the Court on interlocutory appeals filed by the Commonwealth and the defendant, Pedro Vasquez.

Shortly after the January 2015 shooting death of Vasquez’s girlfriend, he became a suspect. After Vasquez was arrested, it became apparent that he did not have command of the English language. The detectives asked a Spanish speaking officer who was untrained in interpretation to translate the Miranda warnings and interrogation into Spanish. The officer’s translation was as follows: “1. You have the right to remain quiet. 2. Any thing that you say can be against you … the, of the court. 3. You the right to consult with a lawyer for advice before being and to have him present with you during the interrogation. 4. If you do not have the means to pay, to pay a, and if you wish for it, you the right to be a law, lawyer before being interrogated. 5. If you decide to be now, without the presence of a lawyer, you still have the right to stop the, that any moment until you talk with a lawyer.”

Vasquez subsequently waived his rights, gave a statement, and authorized officers to search his cellphone. The detectives also sought a warrant to obtain the CSLI for the prior 32 days, including the day of the shooting.

Vasquez moved to suppress his statement, search of his cellphone, and the CSLI. The first motion judge suppressed his custodial statements but denied his motion to suppress the search of his cellphone. He also filed a motion to suppress the CSLI, which a second motion judge denied. Both parties appealed.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court agreed with the first motion judge that Vasquez was not adequately advised of his Miranda rights in Spanish. The warnings provided to Vasquez were characterized as fragmented, confusing, and incoherent. Although a translation of Miranda warnings into a defendant’s native language doesn’t have to be “word for word,” it can’t be so “misstated to the point of being contradictory or equivocal.” Commonwealth v. Bins, 989 N.E.2d 404 (Mass. 2013). The Court determined that the warnings provided to Vasquez in Spanish were incapable of conveying any meaningful advice, and thus, it concluded that he “was unable to execute a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary waiver of his rights.” Therefore, his statements following the warnings were properly suppressed.

In addition, since the Miranda warnings were inadequate, evidence obtained on Vasquez’s cellphone must be suppressed as fruits of the poisonous tree, the Court ruled. Similarly, the Court determined that the warrant application relied on tainted information gathered as a result of the cellphone search, so it ruled that the CSLI must also be suppressed.

Accordingly, the Court affirmed the suppression of Vasquez’s custodial statements and reversed the denials of his motions to suppress evidence obtained on his cellphone and the CSLI. See: Commonwealth v. Vasquez, 130 N.E.3d 174 (Mass. 2019).

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