A state appeals court overturned the child molesting convictions of a pastor at a small Hollywood church because the trial judge allowed Spanish-speaking jurors to translate audio tapes for themselves, instead of insisting the official English translation was evidence.
Jurors convicted Jorge Arancibia in 2010 of a dozen counts of sexual abuse of three girls between 12 and 15 years old, including his own daughter. He was sentenced to 64 years in prison, but the Second District Court of Appeal overturned the conviction Wednesday.
The appeal panel said Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Stephen A. Marcus “erred in instructing the jurors that the Spanish-language recording, not the English-language translation, was ‘the evidence’ and essentially inviting Spanish-speaking jurors to translate the recording for themselves and the non-Spanish-speaking jurors.”
He “compounded these errors” by telling jurors he could not vouch for the transcribed interrogations even though both were translated by a state-certified translator, said Justice Frances Rothschild.
Arancibia was accused of kissing and playing a “tickle game” with a 12-year-old girl, that included lying on top of her. The incidents continued for a year that he picked her up for church three times a week. He was accused of doing the same with 12-year-old his daughter, then told her to pray for God’s forgiveness. The third girl was 15 and lived briefly with Arancibia’s family and accused him of attempting to kiss her while she bathed and later climbing on her while she was sleeping.
His interrogations by police were done in Spanish and English translations were provided to jurors, side-by-side with Spanish-language transcripts.
Because some of the jurors were Spanish speakers, allowing them to select for themselves the versions of the defendant’s police interrogation on which to base the verdict “was equivalent to allowing each of the 12 jurors to consider evidence not presented at trial,” he wrote. “The court’s error undermines one of the fundamental tenets of our justice system – that a defendant’s conviction may be based only on the evidence presented at trial,” Rothschild said.
Justices Victoria G. Chaney and Jeffrey W. Johnson joined Rothschild in overturning the conviction.
Case: People v. Arancibia, No. B240341