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Civil rights increased for Texans who do not fully understand English

Canales/Hinojosa legislation to improve civil rights for Texans. Photo: HOUSE PHOTOGRAPHY/EDINBURGPOLITICS.com

Canales/Hinojosa legislation to improve civil rights for Texans. Photo: HOUSE PHOTOGRAPHY/EDINBURGPOLITICS.com

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Legislativemedia@aol.com

With millions of Texans, including waves of new immigrants, who have difficulty communicating in English, the Texas Legislature has approved a measure to protect their U.S. constitutional rights when facing a criminal accusation.
The legislation, House Bill 2090 by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, and Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, received final approval from the Legislature on Sunday, May 26, and was sent to Gov. Rick Perry for his approval. The legislation would take effect September 1, 2013.
According to the bill analysis of the legislation:
• The Code of Criminal Procedure, art. 38.22, sec. 1 requires that a written statement made by the accused be made in his or her own handwriting or, if the accused is unable to write, that a statement bear the mark of the accused and that the mark be witnessed by someone other than a peace officer;
• To address this issue, HB 2090 amends current law relating to a written statement made by an accused as a result of custodial interrogation; and
• HB 2090 would require a written statement made by the accused to be made in a language the accused could read and understand, if the statement was not made by the accused in his or her own handwriting.  Such a statement would have to be signed by the accused or bear the mark of the accused, witnessed by a person other than a peace officer, if the accused was unable to write.
“HB 2090 would establish a sensible procedure to ensure the integrity of the judicial system by requiring that the accused be able to read and understand the written statement the person signs,” said Canales, an attorney. “Currently, it is possible that a non-English speaker could sign a written statement in English without understanding the content of the statement.”
The United States Constitution provides that no person shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, said Hinojosa.
“Interested parties note that procedural safeguards under the United States Constitution and federal and state statutes protect this right but the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure does not require a written statement that is signed by an accused or on which the accused makes a mark in lieu of such signature to be written in a language the accused can read and understand,” Hinojosa, also an attorney, explained. “Thus, a non-English speaker potentially could sign a statement in English without understanding the content of the statement and, as a result, could be compelled to be a witness against himself or herself in violation of the individual’s constitutional right.”
Witnesses who testified in support or on HB 2090 before one or both legislative committees which heard the bill – the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence and the Senate Jurisprudence Committee – included:
• Yannis Banks (Texas National Association for the Advancement of Colored People);
• Rebecca Bernhardt (Texas Defender Service);
• Marisa Bono (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund);
• William Cox (El Paso County Public Defender’s Office);
• Cindy Eigler (Texas Interfaith Center for Public Policy);
• Brian Eppes (Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office);
• Kristin Etter (Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association);
• Kay Forth, Legislative Liaison (American Civil Liberties Union of Texas);
• Kathryn Kase (Texas Defender Service);
• Travis Leete (The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition);
• Andrea Marsh (Texas Fair Defense Project);
• Celina Moreno (Mexican American Legal Defense & Education);
• Bill Shier (Self);
• Celeste Villarreal, (Mexican American Bar Association of Texas);
• The Honorable Celeste Villarreal, Associate Judge (Texas Municipal Court Association);
and
• Justin Wood (Harris County District Attorney’s Office).
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