Miranda waiver valid from subject who was not born in the United States


In 2006, Gilberto Chim, a native of Guatemala, was sentenced to life imprisonment for statutory rape of a five year old girl and twenty years imprisonment for sexual battery. Chim’s conviction was preceded by an arrest that entailed a waiver of his Miranda rights and a subsequent confession. He appeals, arguing that the Circuit Court of Scott County erred when it failed to suppress his confession.

Specifically, Chim asserts that he did not adequately understand the English language and therefore did not understand the Miranda warnings articulated to him in English by the three arresting officers: Chief Mike Lee, Officer Will Jones, and Officer Robert Roncolli. Hence, he contends that, although he signed the waiver indicating that he waived his Miranda rights, he did not knowingly and intelligently waive them. Further, he contends that because his waiver was not knowingly and intelligently made, that his confession was not voluntary. Hence, Chim avers that his subsequent confession should have been suppressed as evidence.

To corroborate this contention, Chim offered the following evidence during the suppression hearing: (1) his testimony that he requested but was refused an interpreter; (2) his testimony that he signed the waiver because the officers told him that “he had to sign”; (3) his testimony that he did not understand the meaning of the right to counsel; and (4) his estranged wife’s testimony that she sometimes used her sister-in-law’s son to serve as an interpreter for herself and her husband during the course of their marriage.

The State contends that the trial court was correct in denying Chim’s motion to suppress his confession. Specifically, the State argues that there was “credible, substantial corroborated evidence in support of the trial court’s ruling,” which included the following: (1) the testimony of Officer Lee that Chim spoke and understood the English language; (2) the testimony of Officer Roncolli that Chim seemed to understand us well. He could speak English; (3) the testimony of Chief Mike Lee that Chim understood his Miranda rights; (4) the officers’ testimony that Chim did not request an interpreter and never indicated that he could not understand English; and (5) Chim’s estranged wife’s testimony that she and Chim communicated in English during their marriage.

MSC affirmed the conviction.


In the instant case the trial judge conducted a suppression hearing outside the presence of the jury, as required by law, and concluded that the State met its burden and proved the validity of Chim’s waiver beyond a reasonable doubt. In ruling, the trial judge reasoned:

Well, this court has heard the testimony of the three officers who were present at the time of the taking of the statement, who each, and all three, testified that the conversation between the officers and this defendant was [sic] statements that — I understood he was able to carry on that conversation without the need of an interpreter, and he appeared to understand the questions in the language that was being used, that he understood — appeared to understand English, and he was able to correspond back to them speaking in English, and no threats of violence[,] promises, hopes, or rewards, or intimidation was [sic] upon the defendant, that he appeared to understand his rights that was [sic] given to him, and that he voluntarily waived those rights. It appears from the testimony of those three witnesses, and even the testimony of this defendant at this time, that he understood the questions that was [sic] asked of him, and that he responded in intelligible English. I find that there was [sic] no threats of violence or intimidation, promises of reward or otherwise, which would cause him to waive his rights and make a statement…. I do note that his signature to the waiver and to the statement of facts is quite legible. He signed his name, Gilbert H, initial, Chim, in legible writing. So your objection to the statement for the reason that he did not sufficiently understand English well enough to understand the Miranda Rights, and that the statement that he gave was not — he did not sufficiently understand English enough to give that type of statement, so your objection is overruled.

Chim argues that he did not make a knowing and intelligent waiver because he did not understand the words read to him from the waiver-of-rights form. When asked by his attorney if “[he] spoke English well,” Chim responded that he “understand[s] the majority of the words, other words I don’t understand.” Chim further testified that he did not understand all of the words on the waiver-of-rights form, and that he “didn’t quite get” what an attorney was.

Chim also contends that he requested an interpreter, but the officers refused to provide one because they understood what he was saying. He further asserts “the testimony of Kimberly Chim [, his estranged wife,] provided reasonable doubt that [he] could actually understand [his] rights and knowingly and intelligently waive them.”

We disagree. The trial judge’s finding that Chim validly waived his Miranda rights was based upon appropriate principles of law and supported by substantial evidence.

In Le, we addressed a similar contention. Le argued, in part, that the trial court erred in not suppressing his confession, because he had limited skill with the English language and therefore had not knowingly and intelligently waived his constitutional rights. In denying Le’s motion, the trial court reasoned:

…. The Court would find that the evidence presented, shows beyond a reasonable doubt that the statement made by the defendant was freely and intelligently and voluntary made without any improper inducement. There were no — The Court does not find that there were any promises of salvation or redemption. Basically the officer was getting to the point, or asking him about did he know—did he understand right from wrong, and he indicated that he did. The evidence further shows that the defendant reads, speaks and understands English well. He was born in the United States, although from a Vietnamese family. He still went to English-speaking schools to the tenth grade, and in his testimony today spoke English fluently, and indicated that he understood English well and read English well, and as I said before, went to the tenth grade. So there was no — the Court finds there was no improper inducement made, and that his statement was a voluntary statement; that he understood his rights, and that he made a voluntary waiver of his constitutional rights; that the proper [Miranda] Warnings were given to him. He initialed each and every one of those and signed his name, which he signed the name that he uses, Tony. So I’m going to deny the motion.

We found the issue in Le to be without merit, stating “the trial court did not apply an incorrect legal standard, did not commit manifest error, and his decision was not contrary to the overwhelming weight of the evidence.”

In our case, we find that the trial court’s finding was based upon appropriate principles of law and supported by substantial evidence. Chim, originally from Guatemala, moved to the United States in 1998. He has completed nine years of formal education, which included two years of English classes. The State presented the testimony of all three officers who were present at the time that Chim confessed, all of whom were subject to cross examination by defense counsel.

All conversations between Chim and the arresting officers were in English. The arresting officers testified that Chim never asked the police officers to explain any English words to him. Furthermore, all the officers testified that Chim understood and spoke the English language without an interpreter.

Chim was given a chance to read the Miranda waiver form before signing it, and he gave his statement in English. The officers also testified that Chim was not threatened or intimidated, nor was he offered any promises, hopes, or rewards. Moreover, they testified that Chim appeared to understand his rights, and that he voluntarily waived his rights.

Additionally, the prosecution offered the testimony of Kimberly Chim, Chim’s estranged wife, who testified that during their marriage, she was not fluent in Spanish; hence, she and Chim communicated in English.

Therefore, this assignment of error is without merit.