Aleman v. State

In Aleman v. State, 957 S.W.2d 592, 594 (Tex. App.--El Paso 1997, no pet.), the defendant, who spoke only Spanish, pleaded guilty at a group arraignment to the charge of driving while intoxicated. He was convicted and later moved for a new trial on the grounds that the absence of an interpreter rendered his plea involuntary. Id. The trial court denied his motion for new trial, but the El Paso court reversed. Id. at 594. The Aleman court pointed out that while there was some provision for Spanish--English interpretation at the group proceeding when the appellant entered his plea, such translation facilities were inadequate. Id. Although a court interpreter had been present, her sole task was to assist the group of Spanish--speaking defendants in completing a form entitled "Renuncia de los Derechos por Demandado Criminal sin Representation," which in English translates as "Waiver of the Rights of a Criminal Defendant without Representation." Id. at 593 & n.2. The defendant told the interpreter that he could not afford an attorney but was dissatisfied with the jail time recommendation contained in the plea agreement. Id. at 593-94. The interpreter, however, made no effort to communicate the defendant's position to the trial court, and these concerns did not otherwise reach the court's attention. Id. at 594. When the Aleman defendant entered his plea of guilty, the court interpreter was no longer present and the county prosecutor doubled as translator. Id. The prosecutor was negotiating plea bargains with appellant and the other Spanish-speaking defendants as he was translating the court's explanation of their due process rights. Id. Given the failure of the prosecutor or court interpreter to relay the defendant's concerns about his plea to the trial court, the court of appeals ruled that his plea had been involuntary. Id. The Aleman court recognized that adhering to the requirements of the Code of Criminal Procedure with respect to translation services would have averted the violation of the defendant's constitutional rights. Id.