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Name: People v. Sokau
Case #: B251469
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 6
Opinion Date: 06/23/2015

Appellant’s failure to object to competence of interpreter at trial forfeited challenge to competency on appeal. During Sokau’s trial for assault, he requested and was provided a Palauan interpreter. Sokau testified in his own defense, and there were problems with the interpreter. The court repeatedly admonished the interpreter not to translate in the third person. Sokau’s attorney did not object to the accuracy of the interpretation or the competence of the interpreter. He only asked that the interpreter be instructed not to translate in the third person, and the interpreter was so admonished. On appeal, Sokau claimed he was not provided a competent interpreter, and was therefore denied a fair trial. Held: Issue forfeited. A criminal defendant who is unable to understand English has the right to a competent interpreter. Here, the record showed that appellant appeared to be fluent in English, but felt “more comfortable” with a Palauan interpreter. Although there were issues with the interpreter in this case, appellant did not make a specific objection concerning the accuracy of interpretation or competency of the interpreter. While appellant suggested that the interpreter translate in the first person, this was a suggestion, not an objection. The failure to object and press the trial court for a ruling forfeited the issue. Additionally, based on the record, nothing of substance was lost in the translation and appellant’s defense was conveyed to the jury. The jury heard his defense and discredited his story. Appellant was entitled to a fair trial, not a perfect one.