of Appeals Office of Appellate Courts
Ellison, Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and
Kathleen A. Kusz, Nobles County Attorney, Travis J. Smith,
Special Assistant County Attorney, Slayton, Minnesota, for
Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Lydia
Maria Villalva Lijó, Assistant Public Defender, Saint
Paul, Minnesota, for appellant.
of a foreign language interpreter to translate statements by
appellant from Spanish to English does not implicate the
Confrontation Clause, U.S. Const. amend. VI.
Because appellant was the declarant of the statements
translated by the foreign language interpreter, the
statements are not hearsay under Minn. R. Evid. 801(d)(2)(A).
GILDEA, Chief Justice.
case presents the questions of whether the admission of
statements made by appellant using a foreign language
interpreter violates the Confrontation Clause of the United
States Constitution and hearsay rules. Because we conclude
that the Confrontation Clause is not violated and the
statements are not subject to the hearsay rules, we affirm
the decision of the court of appeals.
2016, the State charged appellant Cesar Rosario Lopez-Ramos
with one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct under
Minn. Stat. § 609.342, subd. 1(a) (2018). Several days
earlier, a county child protection worker contacted police
regarding the possible sexual abuse of a 12-year-old female.
During the subsequent investigation, the victim and her
parents identified Lopez-Ramos as the only suspect.
officers made contact with Lopez-Ramos, and he agreed to
provide a statement. An officer transported Lopez-Ramos to
the county law enforcement center. In an interview room, the
officer started the recording system  and called the AT&T
LanguageLine, a foreign language translation
service. The officer requested a Spanish
interpreter. Once a Spanish interpreter was on the
line, the officer used the speaker function on the telephone
to conduct an interview in sequential interpretation, meaning
that the officer asked a question in English, the interpreter
translated the question from English to Spanish, Lopez-Ramos
responded in Spanish, and the interpreter translated the
response from Spanish to English. During the interview,
Lopez-Ramos admitted to the officer that he had sexual
intercourse with the victim on one occasion.
case proceeded to a jury trial. During a conference on the
first morning of the trial, Lopez-Ramos told the district
court that he intended to object to the admission of his
translated statements. Lopez-Ramos argued that the admission
of the translated statements into evidence would violate the
Sixth Amendment's Confrontation Clause and
Minnesota's hearsay rules because the State was not going
to call the interpreter to testify during the trial.
district court asked the State to make a foundational offer
of proof regarding the interpreter used to translate the
statements made by Lopez-Ramos from Spanish to English. The
State explained that the interpreter's identification and
physical location were never verified, primarily because
Lopez-Ramos never formally challenged the accuracy of the
translation. The district court concluded that the
interpreter was acting as a "language conduit"
during the interview, meaning that the statements were
attributable to Lopez-Ramos as the declarant. The district
court held that the admission of the translated statements
did not violate the Confrontation Clause or hearsay rules,
and therefore overruled the objection by Lopez-Ramos.
the jury trial, the officer testified that Lopez-Ramos
responded directly to the translated questions and never
requested clarification from the interpreter. The officer
told the jury that Lopez-Ramos admitted during the interview
to having sexual intercourse with the victim.
video recording of the interview was admitted into evidence
and played for the jury. The video shows that Lopez-Ramos was
able to fully participate in the interview and he never
expressed any confusion or stated that he did not understand
the questions asked by the officer and translated by the
victim testified during the trial that Lopez-Ramos sexually
penetrated her. Lopez-Ramos testified in his own defense and
denied having any sexual contact with the
victim. Lopez-Ramos told the jury that during the
police interview, he was intoxicated and did not understand
some of the questions asked by the officer.
jury found Lopez-Ramos guilty of first-degree criminal sexual
conduct. The district court convicted Lopez-Ramos of that
offense and sentenced him to 144 months in prison.
appealed his conviction, arguing that the admission of his
translated statements violated the Confrontation Clause and
hearsay rules. In a published opinion, the court of appeals
upheld the district court's ruling that the admission of
the interpreter's translated statements did not violate
the Confrontation Clause or hearsay rules. State v.
Lopez-Ramos, 913 N.W.2d 695, 699 (Minn.App. 2018). The
court of appeals held that "when the state seeks to
admit into evidence a criminal defendant's admissions
made through an interpreter, upon a Confrontation Clause or
hearsay objection a district court must determine as a
preliminary matter whether the interpreter's translation
can fairly be attributable to the defendant, or whether the
interpreter is a separate declarant." Id. at
708. The court of appeals addressed four factors: (1) which
party supplied the interpreter, (2) whether the interpreter
had any motive to mislead or distort, (3) the
interpreter's qualifications, and (4) whether actions
taken subsequent to the conversation were consistent with the
statements as translated. Id. Applying the factors,
the court of appeals determined that the interpreter's
translated statements were attributable to Lopez-Ramos as the
declarant. Id. at 709. Therefore, the court of
appeals concluded that no Confrontation Clause violation
occurred and the statements were admissible over the hearsay
objection as admissions by a party-opponent under Minn. R.
Evid. 801(d)(2)(A). 913 N.W.2d at 709-10.
granted Lopez-Ramos's petition for review.
appeal, Lopez-Ramos argues that the admission of his
translated statements violates the Confrontation Clause. He
also contends that his translated statements are inadmissible
hearsay evidence. See Minn. R. Evid. 802
("Hearsay is not admissible except as provided by these
rules or by other rules prescribed by the Supreme Court or by
the Legislature."). We consider each issue in
first to the argument by Lopez-Ramos that the admission of
the video recording of his interview and the officer's
testimony regarding his statements violated the Confrontation
Clause of the Sixth Amendment to the United States
Constitution. The Confrontation Clause provides that
"[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy
the right … to be confronted with the witnesses
against him." U.S. Const. amend. VI. The United States
Supreme Court has recognized that "the principal evil at
which the Confrontation Clause was directed" was the use
of ex parte or one-sided "examinations as
evidence against the accused." Crawford v.
Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 50 (2004). The Supreme Court
stated that the Confrontation Clause must be viewed with a
historical focus, including its common-law heritage. See
id. The common law did not allow the admission of
testimonial out-of-court statements by a witness who did not
appear at trial unless the witness was unavailable to testify
and the defendant had a prior opportunity to cross-examine
the witness. See id. at 49-50, 53-54. In other
words, the primary objective behind the adoption of the
Confrontation Clause was to regulate the admission of
testimonial hearsay by witnesses against the defendant.
to Crawford, the Supreme Court observed that its
case law "has been largely consistent with" the
original text and meaning of the Confrontation Clause.
See id. at 57. An aberration occurred in Ohio v.
Roberts, 448 U.S. 56 (1980), when the Supreme Court
departed from historical principle and allowed the admission
of testimonial hearsay based upon a finding of reliability
only. See Crawford, 541 U.S. at 60;
Roberts, 448 U.S. at 66. But in Crawford,
the Supreme Court discarded the "unpredictable and
inconsistent" reliability principle espoused in
Roberts and returned to the original text and
meaning of the Confrontation Clause. See 541 U.S. at
66, 68 n.10.
Crawford, the government charged the defendant with
assault and attempted murder for stabbing a man who allegedly
sexually assaulted his wife. Id. at 38-40. The
defendant argued that the stabbing was done in self-defense.
Id. at 40. The government sought the admission of
statements made by the defendant's wife to police
officers regarding the stabbing because the wife's
statements refuted the defendant's self-defense claim.
Id. Even though the wife did not appear or testify
during the trial, her statements to the police were admitted
into evidence and used against him, and the jury found the
defendant guilty. Id. at 40-41.
Supreme Court held that the admission of the wife's
statements to police violated the Confrontation Clause.
Id. at 68-69. The Supreme Court abandoned the
reliability analysis set forth in Roberts, see
id. at 67, and returned to the original text of the
Confrontation Clause, noting that the clause specifically
applies to "witnesses against the accused-in other
words, those who bear testimony," id. at 51
(internal quotation marks omitted) (citation omitted). The
Supreme Court observed that "[a]n accuser who makes a
formal statement to government officers bears testimony in a
sense that a person who makes a casual remark to an
acquaintance does not," and the text of the
Confrontation Clause "reflects an especially acute
concern with [the] specific type of out-of-court
statement." Id. In applying the Confrontation
Clause to the facts of Crawford, the Supreme Court
concluded that the defendant had a right to confront his wife
about her statements to police officers that arguably
defeated his self-defense claim. See id. at 68-69.
In other words, the defendant had a constitutional right to
confront a witness who made testimonial statements that were
admitted against the defendant.
relies on Crawford and argues that the translated
statements he made to the police are like the statements made
by the defendant's wife to the police in
Crawford. We disagree. The statements at issue in
Crawford were undoubtedly made by a third party-the
defendant's wife. This case does not involve a
third-party declarant whose testimony is offered against the
defendant. The statements at issue here were made by the
defendant himself in Spanish and then translated into English
by a foreign language interpreter. The facts of this case
then are materially different from those presented in
bedrock principle of Crawford still controls and
compels the result that we reach. As the Supreme Court noted,
the Confrontation Clause specifically applies to
"witnesses against the accused-in other words,
those who bear testimony." Crawford, 541 U.S.
at 51 (emphasis added) (internal quotation marks omitted)
(citation omitted). The Supreme Court observed that the
Confrontation Clause "reflects an especially acute
concern" with statements made by a witness or "[a]n
accuser who makes a formal statement to government
case requires that we apply the underlying principle of
Crawford to the role of a foreign language
interpreter. The function of an interpreter is to convert a
statement from one language to another, processing the
linguistics in order to allow parties to understand one
another. The role of the interpreter is not to provide or
vary content; the role of the interpreter is to relay what
the defendant said in another language. In this way, an
interpreter is not a witness against the defendant. See
United States v. Solorio, 669 F.3d 943, 951 (9th Cir.
2012) (concluding that the Confrontation Clause was not
violated when an interpreter translated in-court statements
of a government informant because the defendant had an
opportunity to cross-examine the informant and "[t]he
interpreters, who only translated [the informant's]
in-court statements, were not themselves witnesses who
testified against [the defendant]."). The interpreter is
simply the vehicle for conversion or translation of language.
To be sure, the role of an interpreter can be fulfilled by a
machine or someone using a foreign language dictionary to
look up each word for the proper conversion. If a machine or
foreign language ...