In Compliance, Industry News

You Have the Right To Remain Silent

Anyone familiar with America police drama TV shows, movies, or books knows these famous lines:  

You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you by the court.

Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966)

This is called the “Miranda warning,” and law enforcement officers must remind suspects of these constitutional rights before they start asking questions. Suspects can claim their rights, and keep their mouths shut, or they can waive their rights and answer the officer’s questions.

I Didn’t Remain Silent … But Maybe I Should Have

The Dat Quoc Do Case

In U.S. v. Dat Quoc Do, the defendant was a native Vietnamese speaker with limited ability to speak and understand English. He was riding as a passenger in his girlfriend’s car when the car in front of them made Do angry. His response? Fire a gun out the window (he claims up in the air and not at the other car, but that was in dispute). The police questioned him at the scene, and a detective and FBI agent questioned him again at the police station. Each time he was given the Miranda warning in English.

The Motion to Suppress

Do’s attorney filed a motion to suppress all of the statements he made in the police cruiser and at the station because he did not knowingly waive his Miranda rights. The sole question was whether his Limited English Proficiency meant that he didn’t actually understand his rights and therefore couldn’t knowingly waive them.  

Do’s attorney asked the court to throw out all of Do’s statements because he did not knowingly waive his Miranda rights. The attorney argued that Do didn’t understand English well enough to have truly understood his rights.

The Court’s Decision

The court agreed with Do’s attorney. The court noted that the officers did try to explain Do’s rights individually and repeated. However, while Do appeared to understand a fair amount of what the officers were saying to him (and, for the most part, made himself understandable to them), he clearly stated that he didn’t fully understand. Further:

  1. Do did not sign a written waiver;
  2. He was not advised of his rights in Vietnamese (verbally or in writing);
  3. The officers did not provide an interpreter; and
  4. Do had no prior experience with the criminal justice system.

Alternate Timeline … With Language Solutions

The prosecution in the Dat Quoc Do will have to move forward without two, crucial pieces of evidence (the videotaped confessions from Do that he shot at/near the other car). So, how would case have gone differently with proper use of language solutions? Let’s re-write history and see what happens.[2]

10:30 p.m.:        Dat Quoc Do gets angry at the car driving in front of him and fires a gun at/near the other car.

10:52 p.m.:        Local police pull Do over and read him the Miranda Warning in English.

10:55 p.m.:        Do and his girlfriend explain to the officers that Do doesn’t speak English very well.

10:56 p.m.:        The police officer pulls up his in-cruiser tablet, ensures that he has a strong, 4G internet connection, and opens his video remote interpreting app.

10:58 p.m.:        A Vietnamese interpreter appears on-screen. The officer explains the situation and situates the tablet so that Do can see the interpreter and the interpreter can see Do.

10:59 p.m.:        The officer repeats the Miranda warning, this time with the help of the interpreter. The officer goes through each of Do’s rights with him, one by one, and asks whether Do understands his rights. With the help of the interpreter, Do unequivocally confirms that he understands his rights and still wants to answer questions.

11:05 p.m.:        During questioning, Do admits that he fired a gun out the window of a moving vehicle.

11:45 p.m.:        Do is arrested and transported the station and is now asked to speak with a detective and FBI agent. 

11:46 p.m.:        The detective prints out a two-column, translated, Vietnamese-English version of the standard Miranda warning and gives it to Do. He then calls up an over-the-phone Vietnamese interpreter to help communicate with Do. Through the interpreter, he goes through each line of the English side Miranda warning form and asks Do to follow along on the Vietnamese side. He asks Do to initial next to each right to confirm he understands it. With the written document and the interpreter, Do clearly understands his rights, initials each line, and signs the statement at the bottom waiving his rights.

11:58 p.m.:        During questioning, Do again admits that he fired a gun out the window of a moving vehicle.

In the alternative timeline, with language solutions added to the mix, it became clear that Do really did want to answer the officer’s questions. The Motion to Suppress would likely be overruled, and the prosecutors would be able to use the two, videotaped confessions. The lesson learned? When addressing matters of importance with Limited English Proficient individuals, always engage language solutions. Want to learn more about Vocalink Global’s language solutions? Connect with us today!


[1] The court actually used the word “translator” throughout the decision where, from context, it clearly meant “interpreter.” An interpreter facilitates spoken conversation while a translator translates the written word.

[2] The court decision indicated the incident began around 10:30 p.m. The other times stated in this alternative timeline were fabricated for illustrative purposes.

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