Language proficiency plays a role in police interrogations when the defendant is not a native speaker of the language. The language barrier may also affect comprehension of Miranda warnings. This article addresses the challenges the U.S. legal system faces in exchanges with nonnative speakers of English. It closely examines the interaction between a Police Officer (PO) who is a native speaker (NS) of English and a Spanish-speaking defendant who is a nonnative speaker (NNS) of English. Speaking English as his second language (L2), the defendant shows the proficiency level of a novice learner. The questioning was therefore conducted in circumstances of linguistic imbalance or asymmetry. In forensic contexts, language asymmetry is consequential since it puts the understanding of law and evidence at risk, beginning with Miranda warnings, and can thereby hinder the proper administration of justice.
Citation: RIUSS Newsletter, Vol. 1 Num. 1 (2016) – The Interrogation by a Police Officer of a Spanish-Speaking Defendant with Incipient Bilingualism, Mercedes Niño-Murcia and Christopher Roth