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Assembly Subcommittee Snubs Multi-Language Miranda Bill

Del. Keam wanted officers to provide a Miranda warning to an arrestee in their native language, written or oral.

A bill that would have required police officers in Virginia to relay a Miranda warning to an arrestee in that person's native language failed to advance beyond a General Assembly subcommittee.

Del. Mark Keam, who represents part of McLean, presented House Bill 1048 last week to provide a Miranda warning to a person accused of a criminal offense in their native language, written or oral, if the arrestee did not understand English. Keam (D-35th District) said the subcommittee voted unanimously by voice to pass by indefinitely, meaning he cannot present the same bill again this legislative session.

“I can always introduce another bill,” Keam said Monday during a telephone interview. “But the members on the subcommittee will be the same next time.”

Keam said he wasn’t optimistic about the bill being successful. He said he knew there would be opposition. Some ethnic communities, including the Vietnamese community in Falls Church, were in support of the bill. Several Vietnamese people were arrested during a raid in August inside the in Falls Church and one of the biggest complaints was some of the arrestees did not understand orders from police.

Binh Nguyen, president of the Vietnamese American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Washington, D.C., said the bill would have helped police and prosecutors build better cases because non-English speaking people would have been Mirandized properly.

Messages left for the grand lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police on the issue were not immediately returned Monday.

According to Mirandawarning.org, the warning is relayed by police to alleged suspects who are in custody before an officer can question someone in regards to a crime. The site said the United States Supreme Court mandated Miranda warnings in 1966.

Ever changing demographics are the biggest need to change Miranda warnings, Keam said. Ten percent of Virginia residents aged 5 years or older speak a language other than English at home, according to the latest U.S. Census figures.

In Fairfax County, 36 percent of residents aged 5 years or older speak a language other than English at home, according the Census Bureau. In addition nearly 30 percent were born outside the U.S.

Police agencies in Arlington County, the Town of Vienna, City of Falls Church and Fairfax County currently have officers who can give Miranda warnings, if needed, in English and Spanish. The agencies can rely on speech lines or other officers to help translate other languages, if needed. In Fairfax County, the Language Skills Support Unit ensures that Spanish, Korean, and Vietnamese speaking officers are available to assist with translation and interpretation issues for serious crimes.

“We are a state that doesn’t like change,” Keam said. “We are a conservative state. They like things to stay the same.”

Nguyen believes having officers that either speak one of the many languages outside of Spanish spoken in Virginia would make it easier on everyone.

On Aug. 11, the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force made and allegedly seized more than $1 million from an alleged gambling ring at the Eden Center. A City of Falls Church judge , acquitting the majority of the alleged suspects. None of the charges that stuck were associated with gambling, Nguyen said.

“A lot of times cases get thrown out because people haven’t been read their Miranda Rights,” Nguyen said. “We hope everyone gets treated fairly and we’re thinking of this for the police, too.”

Bill February 01, 2012 at 12:19 PM
Seriously? This is the best legislative idea you can come up with? The story should also address the cost to taxpayer and the reallocation of police resources to accommodate this legislation. Maybe Kean can introduce a bill making it mandatory that all people who live in VA understand their Miranda rights as spoken in English. That would solve the problem.
Peg Hausman February 02, 2012 at 03:20 AM
The choices in your poll were a bit misleading. Sure it's a matter of fairness, but it's also a question of effective police work. Del. Keam points out that charges against alleged members of a gambling ring had to be dropped because the suspects didn't understand their Miranda rights. Translations of the rights warning already exist; it's a matter of police grabbing the right printout before heading out the door to make their arrest. The other solution would be to require all active or would-be criminals to become fluent in legal English before committing any crimes. Good luck with that . . .

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