Police must use correct Spanish when reading Miranda rights

SAN FRANCISCO — A Miranda warning given in both English and Spanish to a Spanish-speaking suspect is insufficient if a police officer’s translation does not convey the true meaning of the arrested person’s rights, a federal appeals court decided Monday.

A panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a drug and gun conviction on the grounds that a district judge erred by admitting comments made by the suspect after he was given the Miranda warning in English and poor Spanish.

The San Francisco-based appeals court said the warning “failed to reasonably convey the government’s obligation to appoint an attorney for an indigent suspect who wishes to consult one.”

The police detective used the Spanish word “libre” to mean without cost. But expert witnesses said that was an incorrect translation. “Libre” means free as “in being available or at liberty to do something,” the court said.

The ruling overturned the conviction of Jeronimo Botello-Rosales for conspiracy to manufacture marijuana, and for possession of a firearm by a person unlawfully in the United States. Botello-Rosales had entered a conditional guilty plea but reserved the right to withdraw it pending the result of his appeal.

The ruling stemmed from a Portland, Ore., case and applies to police in California and other Western states.