HOLLIDAYSBURG - Prosecutors will be permitted to use statements made by a suspect in a Duncansville sexual assault case even though he is a Mexican native and does not speak English fluently.
Blair County Judge Elizabeth Doyle ruled Tuesday that Felipe Luis Martinez, 32, despite speaking "broken but understandable" English, was able to comprehend his Miranda rights when they were related to him by Duncansville Police Chief James Ott last July during an investigation into a sexual assault in a Borough home.
The attorney for Martinez, Assistant Public Defender Edward Ferguson, asked Blair County Judge Elizabeth Doyle to bar the use of Martinez's statements in his upcoming trial because of his language difficulties, contending the suspect did not understand his right to remain silent due to his language difficulties.
Ferguson asked that his statements in which he admitted sexual contact with a teenager be suppressed because the prosecution "has not proven ... that he gave a knowing and intelligent waiver of his privilege against self-incrimination.
"Specifically, he claims his lack of fluency and knowledge in English prevented him from validly waiving his Miranda rights," Doyle said as she summed up the defense argument.
The Miranda rights include a warning that a suspect does not have to incriminate himself and can be represented by an attorney.
Judge Doyle pointed out that Martinez never told the officer that he did not understand what was said to him, and, Doyle clarified, each time Ott asked Martinez if he understood what was happening he replied in the affirmative.
The next step for Martinez will be an appearance in court later this month for a review of his case to determine when he will be tried.
He is charged with sexual assault, unlawful restraint, corruption of minors, indecent assault, indecent exposure and harassment.
He was charged last July after police investigated a complaint of rape of a minor female.
The young woman said she was at Martinez's residence when he assaulted her.
Ott, upon hearing her story, obtained a search warrant for the suspect's blood, DNA, and for an examination of his body.
The Duncansville chief and two other officers approached Martinez at his place of work in Duncansville.
According to the judge, Martinez had been in the Altoona area for 14 years and made his living by working in landscaping.
Ferguson complained that Martinez was intimidated because three police officers came to question him about the sexual incident, noting Martinez was confronted with a "massive show of authority."
Testimony at the pretrial hearing revealed that Martinez initially denied the sexual encounter with the girl.
The police questioned Martinez outside his work place and then resumed questioning him when they took him to the hospital for an examination.
Martinez, questioned further in the hospital, allegedly changed the details of his story, admitting there was some contact between the two of them.
A point made by the judge was that Martinez did not just answer Ott's questions with a "yes" or "no," but was able to explain his version of events.
Doyle, in a pretrial hearing, heard testimony from Martinez's employer, who said the suspect could not follow complex instructions in English or understand conversations among others if they were speaking English.
Ferguson also argued that the statements by Martinez at his workplace and later at the hospital should have been recorded, but Doyle stated Pennsylvania law has no such requirement.
Police also asked Martinez if he wanted to contact the Mexican consulate, but he said he did not.
Doyle concluded the prosecution led by Assistant District Attorney Russell Montgomery showed "by a preponderance of the evidence that defendant's waiver of his Miranda rights was knowing and voluntarily given."
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.