OROVILLE — An ongoing preliminary hearing for five of 18 co-defendants in an alleged drug ring has been delayed because of an issue involving Spanish-language translators.
Friday was the second day in the preliminary hearing for co-defendants prosecutors allege were part of a drug ring headed by Mario Martinez Salazar. Many were arrested during a May 4 sweep that concluded the investigation.
The prosecution alleges they conspired in an operation to traffic drugs in Butte and Glenn counties.
The hearing is being held in Butte County Superior Court to determine if there is sufficient evidence to hold a trial for defendants Salazar, Carlos Atrian Jr., Martin Rodriguez Jr. and Alejandro and Sonia Becerra.
During a review of Spanish-language qualifications of special agent Andrew Torres of the state Department of Justice, Judge Steven Howell noted there was an appeals court decision regarding translations of foreign language conversations.
Part of the investigation into the alleged drug ring included wiretap surveillance of telephones. Most of the recorded conversations were entirely in Spanish.
In the 1985 decision by the 3rd District Court of Appeal, the court found the original interpreter of a tape recording should be made available to testify about his work.
At that point, Atrian's attorney, Brandon Williams objected to the proceeding, which other attorneys joined in. Williams said the original translator should be called to testify and be cross-examined by the defense.
Howell said he understood that deputy district attorney Marc Noel was going to offer written translations of the phone calls and have agent Torres testify he listened to the audio tapes, reviewed the translations and could verify them.
Noel said he disagreed with the criminal defense attorneys' objection and the appeals court ruling. He said the situation applies more to foreign language translators who must show their qualifications in court, especially because there is often no written record of what they say to their clients.
Noel argued the decision doesn't affect the admissibility of the transcripts and that attorneys could dispute individual calls.
Howell said he felt constrained by the appeals court decision and what must be done in the current case.
He noted there could be logistical difficulties in having the translators testify — a team divided the work.
Howell continued the hearing to April 2. He said Noel could seek input from the state Attorney General on the matter.
The phone calls have been an issue throughout the case.
During an earlier preliminary hearing for Atrian and co-defendant Juan Carlos Alvarez-Fajardo, Judge Robert Glusman ruled that summaries of recorded conversations couldn't be used as evidence. He said translations needed to be verbatim.
Article Contribution by Staff Writer Ryan Olson of ChicoEr.com
Staff writer Ryan Olson can be reached at 896-7763 or firstname.lastname@example.org.