Defender Assn. of Phila., Benjamin Lerner, Defender, John W. Packel, Chief, Appeals Div., William L. Bowe, Asst. Defender, Philadelphia, for appellant.
F. Emmett Fitzpatrick, Dist. Atty., Steven H. Goldblatt, Asst. Dist. Atty., Chief, Appeals Div., Marianne E. Cox, Asst. Dist. Atty., for appellee.
Jones, C. J., and Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. O'Brien, J., filed a dissenting opinion in which Eagen, J., joins.
Appellant Louis Pana was arrested on December 30, 1973, and charged with burglary, criminal conspiracy and resisting arrest. On May 16, 1974, a jury returned a verdict of not guilty of resisting arrest and guilty of burglary and conspiracy. The court denied post-verdict motions and imposed a sentence of three to ten years imprisonment. The Superior Court affirmed the judgments of sentence in a per curiam order. Appellant petitioned this Court for allowance of appeal contending that the trial court committed reversible error by refusing to permit him to use an interpreter when he testified in his own behalf.*fn1 We agree, reverse the judgments of sentence, and remand for a new trial.
At the beginning of appellant's trial, the court appointed an interpreter to aid appellant, a native of Puerto Rico, in understanding the proceedings. The interpreter was present at all times during the trial. Before appellant took the stand, appellant's counsel requested at side bar that appellant be permitted to testify in Spanish. He stated that, although appellant spoke some English, he might misunderstand questions because of the emotional strain of testifying. The court denied the request stating that the interpreter would be permitted to
aid appellant with particular questions if the court deemed it necessary. Thus, although the interpreter sat near appellant during appellant's testimony and although he aided appellant with particular words and phrases on eight occasions, appellant was required to testify without the use of the interpreter. This, appellant contends, denied him his fundamental right to testify effectively in his own behalf.
The record is replete with instances when appellant, while testifying, did not understand questions, fumbled with answers, and spoke in broken English. For example, his direct examination began as follows:
"Q. [by appellant's attorney] Mr. Pana, do you remember being arrested late in the afternoon of December 30, 1973?
Q. Now, where were you when you ...