Patterico's Pontifications

7/22/2007

English-Speaking Defendant on Trial for Raping Seven-Year-Old Gets Free Pass Because Court Could Not Find Interpreter in His Obscure Language

Filed under: Crime,General — Patterico @ 5:08 pm



This is one of the most outrageous decisions I have ever heard about — on several levels.

Charges against a man accused of raping and repeatedly molesting a 7-year-old girl have been dropped because the court took too long to find an interpreter fluent in his native West African language.

Montgomery County Circuit Judge Katherine D. Savage dismissed the nearly three-year-old case against Mahamu Kanneh last week, saying the delays had violated the Liberian immigrant’s right to a speedy trial.

The evidence sounds strong, as multiple “witnesses told police he assaulted the girl multiple times.”

No matter. The courts couldn’t find an interpreter to translate proceedings into “Vai, a tribal language that linguists estimate is spoken by about 100,000 people mostly in Liberia and Sierra Leone.”

Minor point: he probably didn’t need the interpreter anyway.

Prosecutors pointed out that Kanneh attended high school and community college in Montgomery and spoke to detectives in English.

A court-appointed psychiatrist recommended that an interpreter be appointed and judges who handled subsequent hearings heeded that advice.

So the courts didn’t even try to find a qualified interpreter? No they tried. Lord, how they tried:

But officials could not find a competent interpreter of Vai who would stay.

The first interpreter stormed out of the courtroom in tears because she found the facts of the case disturbing.

Advantage: defendant.

A second interpreter was rejected for faulty work. A third Vai interpreter was located, but at the last minute, that person had to tend to a family emergency.

In recent weeks court officials had found a suitable interpreter, but Savage ruled that too much time had already passed.

Sure, he was out of custody. But rules are rules. It’s only fair — don’t you think??

UPDATE: Yes, that is sarcasm.

43 Responses to “English-Speaking Defendant on Trial for Raping Seven-Year-Old Gets Free Pass Because Court Could Not Find Interpreter in His Obscure Language”

  1. Strictly speaking, he was released because he’d been held for three years without trial. Isn’t that the case?

    The reason he didn’t have a trial was because of the baloney about the interpreter, but that’s beside the primary point. His Sixth Amendment Right to a speedy trial had been violated.

    (I personally think that the entire run-around about needing an interpreter was wrong, and they should have gone ahead and held the trial in English.)

    Steven Den Beste (99cfa1)

  2. Ironic, since English is the official language of Liberia.

    DubiousD (9a670f)

  3. This isn’t really news in the People’s Republic of Montgomery County but it is very sad a Judge cannot be trusted to have common sense.

    warpmine (4b785c)

  4. NO! I do *not* think it is fair! I am also not a lawyer – I’m a bean counter, so I do not know much about law. I do know a few lawyers.

    Rodney A Stanton (cc0200)

  5. Strictly speaking, he was “held without trial” in the sense that he was arrested and subjected to criminal process, but in a different sense, he was free as a bird during those three years:

    Police arrested Kanneh, of Gaithersburg, in August 2004 after witnesses told police he assaulted the girl multiple times. He spent one night in jail and was released on a $10,000 bond with the restriction that he have no contact with minors.

    Attila (Pillage Idiot) (88e3e3)

  6. Patterico, before my head bursts open from the outrageousness of this, inform us,

    1) whether the judge is justified in releasing him because of delays?

    2) if an interpreter was deemed necessary and the snafus occurred doesn’t the good faith effort negate the time frame of a speedy trial? and,

    “In recent weeks court officials had found a suitable interpreter, but Savage ruled that too much time had already passed.”…

    3) Does this negate the charges he faced? Because of extenuating circumstances and the time delay, are the charges nullified? Will charges be reinstated, is there a statute of limitations?

    Thank you.

    Dana (8da8ef)

  7. [comment deleted — even for kagu it’s too over the top. — Mgmt.]

    krazy kagu (89f761)

  8. It would be a nightmare to translate an American legal proceeding into a language like Vai. The reason that educated Africans don’t speak tribal languages is that they lack the vocabulary to express modern concepts, and some of them lack past and future tenses. No wonder one interpreter was dismissed for “faulty” work – faulty by whose estimate, another Vai expert, or the defendant?

    It would save a lot of money if we just allowed court-appointed psychiatrists to release every defendant they felt sorry for, and that’s where we’re headed.

    Glen Wishard (b1987d)

  9. Completely outrageous. I believe there is DNA evidence proving the crime also.

    The fault lies with the psychiatrist, defence attorney and the judge. I truly wonder how the first two can sleep at night.

    gahrie (de5a83)

  10. […] Yes, it’s an outrage. Charges against a man accused of raping and repeatedly molesting a 7-year-old girl have been dropped because the court took too long to find an interpreter fluent in his native West African language. […]

    Michelle Malkin » Immigrant child molester gets off because of lack of translator (41113f)

  11. It goes on all the time: “No entiendo, senor!” The rule for interpreters is roughly the same as for competence to stand trial generally — a rational understanding of the proceeding sufficient to enable the defendant to defend himself. Some defendants can fool the court into thinking they’re non compos mentis — some that they do not understand English. Some judges are more predisposed to allowing themselves to be fooled. With defense attorneys it’s an occupational requirement.

    nk (37689a)

  12. Outrageous.

    What about the rights of the little girl, her family, the community, and future victims?

    MD in Philly (3d3f72)

  13. Even if the defendant’s English were as poor as claimed, still in a lot less than three years the he could have studied, or been made to study, English enough to participate in the trial. I don’t know whether the law permits compelling a defendant to learn some English. If not, it’s a shame that the law keeps such a distance from practicality and common sense.

    ForNow (55d7a6)

  14. A little off topic…

    This is a Washington Post reported story.

    I don’t see any attribution in the Town Hall reprint of it.

    Am I just missing it?

    alphie (015011)

  15. […] you have kids (or plan to have them), this is the world you’re bringing them into.  […]

    Rape a 7 Year-Old, Need Interpreter, Get Out of Jail Card on US! « Political Napalm (6367b9)

  16. Somebody’s non compos mentis here, but it ain’t the defendant.

    SOme days, you just lose your faith that there’s any “justice” in the Justice System… I can’t see how this case is anything but a travesty.

    I mean, are we saying that everybody except the judge and lawyers knew this guy understands English well enough to get through school, but they never tried to find out?

    Merovign (4744a2)

  17. No, I don’t think it’s fair. Isn’t there an element of reasonableness the judge is missing here? It’s not like the guy was held in a dungeon for three years while the court tortured him! They made several attempts and should have been given another to find an interpreter. I wonder too if the last one was disturbed or intimidated…

    Like someone said, he could have learned English in that time period (oops, was that racist?)

    Patricia (824fa1)

  18. […] This is well and truly an outrage but I still can’t help chuckling at the predictability of the blog and media reaction tomorrow. All the ingredients are there. Child victim? Check. Immigration angle? Check. Law enforcement hamstrung by the demands of multiculturalism? Check. Showcase segments on “The Big Story” and O’Reilly, at least one of which to feature a sweaty, defensive Geraldo Rivera? Checkity check check. […]

    Hot Air » Blog Archive » Outrageous outrage: Accused child rapist freed because court can’t find interpreter (d4224a)

  19. This POS knew English. The reporters talked to him for five minutes on WJLA or WUSA (Washington D.C. affiliates for ABC or CBS respectfully). Here’s the judge’s phone number: 240-777-9372. And the suspect’s address for those that might being living near him (he lives less than a mile from a community park as well): 5618 Whitfield Chapel Rd, Lanham, MD 20706-2547, US. I agree wholeheartedly with #7’s comment. And why the hell did a court-appointed psychiatrist talk to him in the first place? And was this guy a United States citizen or is he here illegally or on a green card?

    Timothy Watson (734661)

  20. This is a strong argument for people taking the law in their own hands.

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  21. Will the prosecution appeal?

    Davod (5bdbd3)

  22. This may be a stupid question, but here goes: who cares if the Defendant isn’t fully fluent in English, or if the translator isn’t perfect – as long as his ATTORNEY is fluent in English and provides a competent defense?

    I’m assuming that the Defendant wouldn’t have realistically been taking the stand, thus it seems there’d be no real need for him to understand all that was going on. As long as he’s competently defended, what exactly is the Constitutional issue?

    I know. Stupid question. I guess the answer will be that he has a right to fully participate in his own defense.

    But from a real-world perspective … how much actual participation do a lot of Defendants do? How much help does their attorney really need?

    PB (df860b)

  23. […] government depravity From Patterico’s Pontifications: English-speaking defendant on trial for raping seven-year old gets free pass because court could […]

    More government depravity « Full Metal Cynic (41a182)

  24. […] Patterico provides the link to this sick story. As Allahpundit pointed out, the WaPo found several interpreters who speak Vai in the course of an afternoon. […]

    Right Voices » Blog Archive » A New Low: Accused child rapist freed because court can’t find interpreter (1466f5)

  25. I wonder what impact mandating English as our nation’s “official language” would have affected a case like this. Would such a law place more responsibility on defending counsel to secure translators, as the court case would proceed in English? Or would we still guarantee proceedings in every language in the world?

    Setting aside this case, it seems unlikely that tribal language would be used in a more complex case, say copyright or stock-fixing. Besides the tense problems, those langugages don’t have the vocabulary necessary. Where do you draw the line, and how would a judge be competent enough to do so?

    carlitos (b38ae1)

  26. Where the constitution meets the fine edge of insanity

    EricPWJohnson (92aae0)

  27. […] The Big Story Sunday, Julie Banderas and James Rosen discussed the case of accused child rapist Mahamu Kanneh, released because the court couldn’t find a translator to interpret for him in his obscure […]

    Hot Air » Blog Archive » Video: Freed accused child rapist does in fact speak English (d4224a)

  28. […] know the drill… (via LC & IB Patterico, with a generous assist from Sir Christopher). Charges against a man accused of raping and […]

    Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler » Blog Archive » Rope. Tree. Judge. (f6e59f)

  29. Never mind America having English as our official language, the official language of Liberia is English. Had anyone considered that? Please reference the Financial Times World Desk Reference, since the DOJ obviously doesn’t have a reliable reference source.

    And if criminals can be tested to see if they are mentally competent to stand trial, why can’t they be tested to be linguistically competent?

    I find it repugnant that more sincerety was not apparent from the Consular representative from Liberia. Perhaps a gentle reminder that he is a GUEST in this country would be appropriate. We operate a translation and interpretation service in New York. Certainly nobody contacted us to find a Vai interpreter, so I’d hardly call their three-year half-baked search exhaustive.

    However, the crux of the matter is that the official language of Liberia is English, and this suspect attended school here and was able to speak English to both detectives and news correspondents. That says it all. Weren’t there taped interviews demonstrating his knowledge of the English language?

    I hope the judge can sleep at night. I’m sure there a lot of folks who won’t be able to with this predator on the loose again.

    Lisa Alesci (8164a7)

  30. This would be comical, were it not such an indictment of our system.

    JD (26b504)

  31. The sad thing is, if the father of this child does what needs to be done and puts this lowlife in the ground the same judge would put him away for life in an instant.

    AllenGrim (0ee379)

  32. As long as he’s competently defended, what exactly is the Constitutional issue?

    I believe its the right to confront witnesses. In the 6th amendment.

    Never mind America having English as our official language, the official language of Liberia is English. Had anyone considered that? Please reference the Financial Times World Desk Reference, since the DOJ obviously doesn’t have a reliable reference source.

    From the story, it appears that he speaks a tribal language.

    amarc (f35d9f)

  33. A follow-up to PB’s point at #24.

    How often does a defendant have the education and IQ to follow the details of the testimony of forensic experts, the strategy of the prosecutor, the precedents in law??

    How much English does it take to understand you’re accused of doing things with a 7 year old that you’re not supposed to. Even the education of a HS diploma in the worst of schools should be adequate.

    Was the guy non-functional in US society? Apparently not. How could someone from a remote part of Liberia get to the US and manage to get a HS diploma and enroll in Community College without functional English?

    It may be there are issues of the accused’s mental status that the psychiatrist needs an interpreter to help figure out if he is delusional or “just has some wild ideas”, etc., that have bearing on the court proceedings.

    But if the issue is whether he is guilty or innocent by reason of insanity, putting him back on the street doesn’t sound like the answer.

    MD in Philly (3d3f72)

  34. Just another shining monument to our CRIMINAL Justice system.
    Does anyone know if judges in MD are elected/re-elected? How about recall? There always is impeachment – or being guest of honor at a tar-and-feathering.

    Another Drew (8018ee)

  35. amarc – One might suspect that it would be rather difficult to graduate from an American high school and attend community college if you only spoke a tribal African language.

    Somebody gamed the system. For the parties involved, they can only hope that this bastard does not resume his hobby again.

    JD (26b504)

  36. Great way of getting around the justice system. If one was ever incarcerated and awaiting trail, simply claim to speak Mars language; where no known translation exist. Never mind that one spent their entire life educated and working around the English language. All you need is the opinion of a court appointed psychiatrist, who would recommend moving the trail to Mars in order to get a fair hearing, or simply dismiss ALL charges. Ump dicca duveric fribbger gratticx pom, yep, ep, ueppi, hibnk luye whafufufuf!

    Tony Ward (20d12a)

  37. Its now coming out that the prosecution did not answer any requests by the defense in discovery and there is some mention of a “police scandal”

    does anyone have any info on this?

    EricPWJohnson (92aae0)

  38. Please sign this petition before the Judge makes a decision on bond!

    URGENT!

    Carole Sarcinello (123b79)

  39. […] Pattericos Pontifications English-Speaking Defendant on Trial … Related books: […]

    Daniel Marston, The Seven Years' War (Essential Histories) (5e634b)


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