The Appellate Group

State v. Lopez-Betanco

State v. Lopez-Betanco, 2022 UT App 119 (Harris, J.)


Jonathan and Girlfriend were involved in a domestic dispute. Jonathan and Girlfriend each told the police that the other was the aggressor. In Jonathan’s statement, in Spanish he told a Spanish-speaking officer that Girlfriend had come after him with a hammer. On bodycam footage, the officer immediately translated Jonathan’s statement to another officer explaining that Girlfriend had swung a hammer at Jonathan. The jury saw this video at trial. After Jonathan testified at trial, in Spanish and translated into English by a court interpreter, that Girlfriend had thrown a hammer at him, the State tried to impeach Jonathan based on the various translations of his statement and testimony. The court interpreters held a sidebar with the attorneys and trial court explaining that no Spanish equivalent exists for the English verb “to swing,” in accordance with the officer’s bodycam translation. Defense counsel asked the court to explain the content of the sidebar to the jury. The court explained to the jury that the interpreters had brought up an issue about the translation of a word but that the interpreters had done a good job interpreting and there was nothing to worry about as far as their interpretation was concerned. The court did not mention the verb “to swing” or the officer’s bodycam interpretation of Jonathan’s statement. On appeal, Jonathan argued that the trial court erred in not going far enough in its explanation to the jury about what the side bar was about and in refusing to “correct Officer’s noncertified and incorrect translation” of Jonathan’s statement. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding:

  • The district court did not abuse its discretion by declining to instruct the jury that the officer’s translation of the bodycam conversation was inaccurate. The trial court has no obligation to correct the testimony or translation of the testimony of another witness. Trial counsel could have cross-examined the officer about his Spanish-language capability or about his experience translating Spanish conversations into English, or he could have called his own witness to offer an opinion about the accuracy of the officer’s translation.
  • Practice Point: fn 7: counsel could have requested to re-open the evidence to recall Officer or to offer other testimony about the issue.
  • Appellate Practice Point: fn 7: appellate counsel could have asserted that trial counsel was ineffective when he failed to request to re-open the evidence to recall Officer or to offer other testimony about the issue.

Read the full court opinion