ST. PAUL - The case against and sentence of a former Worthington man who was convicted by a jury of having forcible intercourse with a juvenile younger than 13 stands, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled this week.
In its 4-3 decision published Wednesday, the Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed previous courts’ decisions to convict Cesar R. Lopez-Ramos, 22, of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. Lopez-Ramos was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment, a sentence that Minnesota’s highest court also upheld. Lopez-Ramos was 19 at the time of the offense.
Lopez-Ramos was interrogated following the report of a sexual assault. An AT&T Language Line interpreter provided Spanish translation assistance during Lopez-Ramos’ interview with law enforcement. Before trial, Lopez-Ramos requested to suppress the statement where he admitted to having sex with the juvenile, claiming to have been drunk and not being able to fully understand the questions due to the language barrier. Fifth Judicial District Judge Gordon Moore rejected his request, and the trial continued.
Lopez-Ramos appealed the decision, asserting that his Sixth Amendment right was violated when the language line interpreter utilized during his initial interview with law enforcement was not present at his December 2016 jury trial for cross-examination. He also contested that his statements made to law enforcement with translation assistance were hearsay.
Neither the Minnesota Court of Appeals or Minnesota Supreme Court agreed.
In its affirmation opinion, the Minnesota Supreme Court justices argue that the interpreter was not a witness against the defendant in the case. They also ruled that the statements Lopez-Ramos made were his, and therefore not hearsay.
“The use of interpreters has become an important part of our criminal justice system,” the affirming opinion stated, making additional reference to Minnesota law requiring law enforcement obtain an interpreter at the earliest time possible.
Not all Supreme Court justices agreed with previous courts’ decisions.
In Justice Natalie Hudson’s authored dissenting argument, she and the other two dissenting justices said the district court erred when it denied Lopez-Ramos’ motion to suppress the interpreted statement, “We had intercourse with her.” They suggested reversal of Lopez-Ramos’ conviction and a new trial, in which the state would offer live testimony from the interpreter or have another interpreter translate Lopez-Ramos’ recorded statement.
Based on the majority decision, a new trial will not occur.
Lopez-Ramos remains incarcerated at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Faribault. His anticipated release date is May 9, 2024.