Native English speakers are pretty familiar with the “Miranda” warning that starts out, “You have the right to remain silent…” They generally have little trouble understanding those rights once they are spelled out by the police.
But what if English isn’t your first language? Are you entitled to hear the Miranda warning in your native tongue?
It may depend on how well you speak English
The Miranda warning is only required when a suspect in a crime is both in police custody and being interrogated.
Since the police can’t interrogate a suspect who doesn’t speak English without an interpreter, it would follow that they would need to use that interpreter to convey the suspect’s Miranda rights, as well.
But what if your grasp of English is just fair? You may still be entitled to hear the Miranda warning in your own language so that its meaning is clear — and that can be problematic for the police.
Spanish, for example, is the native tongue of millions of people in this country. While many of those people may have a functional grasp of English for everyday use, their understanding may falter when it comes to more technical or formal language. As a result, many police departments will give those suspects a Spanish-language translation of their rights.
If that Spanish translation is inaccurate, that may not count as a fair recitation of the suspect’s rights. That was the decision, for example, in a California case where the officer used an incorrect Spanish word for “free” that changed the meaning of what was said.
Generally, the police aren’t supposed to continue questioning if a suspect doesn’t clearly indicate that they understand their Miranda rights. Language barriers can be raised as an issue in a defense if you’re charged with a crime.