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7.8.07

Justice for the Non-Anglophone Accused

Bint Alshamsa points out that a judge recently dismissed a sex abuse case because it took the government three years to find a interpreter who spoke Vai, the defendant's first language. It looks like the crime will now go unpunished, since Mahamu Kanneh seems to be the only real suspect.

Obviously the best solution would have been to quickly find an interpreter -- and Alshamsa makes a good case that if the government had put some more effort into it, they could have found a Vai interpreter. However, given the fact that they didn't find said interpreter, I think the judge made the right decision. As important as it is to punish sex abusers, there is a fundamental right to a fair trial -- including a right to understand the proceedings, and a right to have the case settled in a timely manner. Having an interpreter is important both so that the defendant will be able to make a fair defense of himself, and so that he understands what is being done to him and why (because justice that is percieved by the defendant as arbitrary will fail to achieve its purpose). A speedy trial is important because the process of being charged and tried is a major burden -- one might even call it a punishment -- being placed on a person who is still presumptively innocent (though Kanneh was lucky enough to be able to get out on bond, so at least he didn't spend his pre-trial period in jail in the same conditions as all the convicts being punished).

Nobody should be convicted unfairly because *we* are certain they're guilty, nor should they have their case unneccessarily drawn out because respecting their rights is inconvenient. Justice (or the perception thereof -- after all, Kanneh may be innocent) for sex abuse victims shouldn't come at the expense of the rights of others, particularly people like immigrants of color with poor English skills who are already marginalized in society. Hopefully this decision will spur the government to be more diligent in the future. And if Kanneh is actually guilty, hopefully his ordeal so far will be enough to deter him from any future wrongdoings.

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