In the US, a Kansas judge ruled that the use of machine translation by the police to gain consent to search a car, which belonged to man who was arrested for possession of illicit drugs, as unconstitutional. The defendant’s attorneys filed a motion to suppress the evidence since the man agreed to have his car searched without fully understanding the true meaning when the police used Google Translate to ask him questions at the time of arrest. Subsequently, the court ruled in the man’s favor.
Under the US constitution, for any warrantless searches, arrests, or seizures by the police, the suspect needs to consent to these actions “freely and intelligently.”
The defendant in question was in the US legally, but did not speak English well. The arresting officer stated that he used Google Translate on his laptop instead of a live interpreter since it was three in the morning. The video recording taken from the police car which was presented in court, showed the officer asking, “Can I search your car?” in English, but instead it was interpreted as, “Can I find your car?” in Spanish. It also showed the defendant saying, “Yes, yes, go ahead.” The man stated that he did not understand the intent behind the officer’s question and that he had the right to refuse the request, therefore the evidence should be thrown out.
The prosecuting team countered that whether it be Google Translate or human interpretation, there was no way for a person who did not understand Spanish to begin with know the validity of the translation. However, the judge from the United States District Court of Kansas ruled in favor of the defendant. In the past, a similar claim was made in the State of Texas, but for that particular case, the defendant’s motion for innocence was denied since the man in question voluntarily opened the trunk when the police officer also used body language. As the top judge in England and Wales predicted by saying that, “I have little doubt that within a few years high quality simultaneous translation will be available and we’ll see the end of interpreters,” there is a trend to depend on machine translation for legal purposes on a global scale, and this verdict was indicative of the skeptical view that was held for rushing to switch over to machine translation that does not understand the context.