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Yea: The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals did the right thing on March 24. The CCA concluded that if a trial judge is aware that a defendant does not understand English, the judge has a duty to appoint an interpreter unless the defendant provides a knowing and voluntary waiver. The ruling came in Jose Medrano Garcia v. State, the case of a Mexican immigrant who had no interpreter during his 2001 sexual assault trial in Brazoria County. The 14th Court of Appeals had affirmed Garcia’s conviction and eight-year sentence, concluding that the bilingual legal assistant sitting next to Garcia at trial was available to translate for him, although she didn’t. The CCA said in the opinion that the fact that the legal assistant was bilingual did not make her a courtroom interpreter capable of translating at a trial. Judge Mike Keasler wrote in the opinion that to Garcia, the trial must have been “a babble of voices.” The CCA’s meaning could not be clearer. Yea: March 24 was the first day on the job for Harold Hurtt, Houston’s new police chief. He spent his first day on the job attending a Houston City Council meeting, where at least one council member asked him to make the city’s troubled crime lab a priority. DNA testing at the lab was suspended in December 2002 because of questions about the accuracy of the test results. Independent labs have retested DNA evidence in about 200 cases handled by the Houston crime lab, and found discrepancies with the original testing in 48 of them. More cases will be re-tested. While public safety is important, we agree the Houston Police Department needs to fix the problems at its crime lab and restore public confidence that DNA testing at the lab is accurate. It’s vital to ensure that DNA evidence used at trials is accurate.

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