Language barriers frequently arise in every day life. While apps and websites that provide quick translations to and from English and other languages are convenient, they are not suitable for all purposes. In a recent case heard in the United States District Court of the District of Kansas, U.S. v. Omar Cruz-Zamora, the court ruled that Google translate was insufficient for obtaining proper consent from a non-English speaking suspect prior to searching the suspect’s vehicle. The court held the language barriers between the suspect and arresting officers were not overcome by Google translate, and therefore the consent to search a vehicle was not given freely and intelligently and was invalid. As such, the search of the car was unconstitutional and the evidence against the suspect was suppressed. While the ruling in Omar Cruz-Zamora does not have precedential value in Illinois, it may be viewed as persuasive if the issue of adequate translation arises in Illinois DUI cases.
The suspect in Omar Cruz-Zamora was stopped for a traffic violation. Under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution individuals are protected against unreasonable search and seizure. As such, since the officers did not have a warrant, they were required to make sure the suspect understood he could refuse to allow them to search the vehicle and obtain the suspect’s consent to search the vehicle. The suspect spoke very limited English and could not understand the officers’ questions. The officers did not know they had access to a live human translator and used Google translate to advise the suspect of his rights and obtain his consent. The translations provided did not accurately communicate the information the officers were trying to convey and there was no evidence the suspect understood his right to refuse to allow his vehicle to be searched or the purposes for which his consent was requested. The suspect ultimately consented to the search, and upon searching the vehicle the officers found illicit drugs and arrested the suspect.
At the trial, the suspect testified he was confused as to what the officers were asking and did not know he had the right to refuse to allow them to search the vehicle. Translators called upon to assess the accuracy of Google translate testified it often provided a literal but nonsensical translation, and therefore was not a reliable translation tool. The suspect argued that any evidence obtained during the search was obtained without his consent and should be suppressed. Upon reviewing the evidence, the court found it was clear the suspect did not understand what the officers were asking when he consented to the search. Further, the court found the good-faith exception the exclusionary rule of evidence obtained via unlawful searches did not apply because it was unreasonable for the officers to rely on Google translate. As such, the court granted the suspect’s motion to suppress.