The most crucial time to understand your civil rights is when you are under arrest. This is when any violation or involuntary surrender of your rights can place your freedom at risk. By law, police who arrest you must inform you of your rights to prevent you from incriminating yourself. However, what if you don’t speak English?
One of the important elements of the U.S. Supreme Court decision called Miranda v. Arizona is that police must clarify that you understood your rights as the officer read them to you. If you speak Spanish or another language, Kansas police must provide you with a translation of your Miranda rights. Unfortunately, many of those translations are confusing and inaccurate, compromising your vital rights.
You have the right to do what?
The Miranda warning advises you to remain silent during questioning because prosecutors will examine whatever you say and use it as evidence against you. Miranda also advises you to get an attorney or to request one if you can’t afford one. Without fluency in Spanish, officers may mispronounce critical words or even use the wrong word. For example, several Spanish-speaking defendants report hearing that they had the right to “point at” a lawyer, not “appoint” one.
The subtle differences in language may cause you to relinquish your rights unintentionally. In one case, an officer did not inform a man that he had a right to remain silent but instead that he had the right to answer questions. Some who were under arrest understood this to mean they could reveal incriminating information without penalty. In another city, an officer had spent 25 years telling the Miranda warning in Spanish so garbled it was nearly nonsense.
Changes to Miranda translations
The American Bar Association recently voted for official translations of the Miranda warning in Spanish and other languages to insure the most accurate telling of those critical rights. Nevertheless, there are many dialects and regional variations in languages that may still make it difficult for you and others to get a true understanding of your rights when facing law enforcement.
If you find yourself under arrest, it is always wise to politely refuse to answer questions until you receive the counsel of an attorney. Your legal advisor will ensure you have a firm grasp of your rights and will work to protect them throughout every step of the criminal process.