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State v. Lopez-Ramos

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

April 16, 2018

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
v.
Cesar Rosario Lopez-Ramos, Appellant.

          Nobles County District Court File No. 53-CR-16-420

          Lori Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and Kathleen A. Kusz, Nobles County Attorney, Travis J. Smith, Special Assistant County Attorney, Slayton, Minnesota (for respondent)

          Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Lydia Maria Villalva Lijó, Assistant Public Defender, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant)

          Considered and decided by Connolly, Presiding Judge; Reilly, Judge; and Reyes, Judge.

         SYLLABUS

         I. When an interpreter contemporaneously translates a criminal defendant's foreign-language statement to law enforcement, absent a motive to mislead or distort, or other facts indicating miscommunication or inaccuracy, the interpreter's translation may be regarded as the statement of the defendant.

         II. When the state seeks to admit into evidence a criminal defendant's admission made through an interpreter, upon a Confrontation Clause or hearsay objection, a district court must determine as a preliminary fact question whether the interpreter's translation can fairly be attributable to the defendant, or whether the interpreter is an independent declarant.

         III. When a defendant is deemed the declarant of his or her translated statement, the Confrontation Clause is not implicated, and the statement is admissible as a party admission under Minn. R. Evid. 801(d)(2)(A).

          OPINION

          REILLY, Judge

         In this direct appeal from final judgment of conviction and sentence for first-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC), appellant Cesar Rosario Lopez-Ramos argues that his rights under the Confrontation Clause were violated when an interpreter who translated his foreign-language statements during a police interrogation was not present to testify at trial and the translated statements were admitted into evidence through a video recording and an officer's testimony. Lopez-Ramos also challenges the admission of his translated statements on hearsay grounds. Because the district court did not err in its determination that the interpreter in this case acted as a "language conduit" and was not a declarant, and therefore no Confrontation Clause or hearsay issues exist, we affirm.

         FACTS

         In May 2016, the state charged Lopez-Ramos with one count of first-degree CSC alleging that he engaged in sexual penetration with a minor under 13 years of age in April 2016. Lopez-Ramos is from Guatemala and he immigrated to the United States in 2016. His first language is Mam, Spanish is his second language, and he does not speak English fluently.

         In April 2016, Nobles County child protection received a report expressing concern about a 12-year-old child due to "hickeys" on her neck. Child protection contacted police and Worthington Police Officer Daniel Brouillet began investigating. Brouillet spoke to the child's parents, who said that they suspected Lopez-Ramos.

         On May 10, Officer Brouillet located Lopez-Ramos, who agreed to give a statement to police. Police brought Lopez-Ramos to an interview room, and they recorded the entire interrogation on video. At the beginning of the interrogation, Brouillet telephoned a foreign-language interpretation service for a Spanish interpreter. The interpreter was placed on speaker phone, and he translated the officer's questions from English to Spanish and then translated Lopez-Ramos's statements back to the officer from Spanish to English.

         During the interrogation Lopez-Ramos admitted that he had sexual intercourse with the child in this case:

OFFICER BROUILLET (OB): So a couple months ago, maybe a month ago, there was some talk between [the child's] dad . . . and you about something that happened between you and [the child]. Can you explain that?
LOPEZ-RAMOS BY INTERPRETER (LR/I): Uh-huh.
OB: Do you know what incident I'm talking about?
LR/I: Yes.
OB: Okay. Can you explain?
LR/I: Everything that happened was because she wanted to. That's not, things didn't happen the way she is telling. Everything that happened is because she wanted to, not the way she is telling it.
OB: Okay, so tell me what happened in your, what was she doing? This is your time to explain your side of the story.
LR/I: I got home from work. She got home from school. She started playing jokes, or you could say she started kidding me.
Um, then I told her to stop making jokes or kidding me and then she . . . told me to get into a little room and, um, after that well, I said I did not want to disturb anyone. After that I don't remember well what happened. I don't remember how things happened after that.
OB: Okay. Well, what happened?
LR/I: We had intercourse with her.
OB: Okay. And how long ago was this?
LR/I: Just now about a month ago.
OB: Okay. And how many times did you have intercourse with [the child]?
LR/I: Just that one time. Nothing else.
OB: Okay. Did you use a ...

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