This man was arrested because of Google Translate…but then was also alleviated from that arrest for the same reason.
Foreign languages are tough, there’s no argument there. With the growing technological times and new “quick fixes” when it comes to things like translation, Google Translate can seem like a great tool. However, it is not perfect. Far from it actually, and we see this in this particular instance of the USA vs. Omar Cruz Samora.
Google Translate does quick, literal translations. Any professional language interpreter can tell you that there is still no replacement for a human translator. Why? Simply put, AI cannot translate tone, cultural meanings, and so on.
What happened to Omar Cruz-Zamora?
Cruz-Zamora was driving with a registration that was expired on September 21, 2017. He was subsequently pulled over by the Kansas Highway Patrol. The officer realized that Cruz-Zamora spoke very little English, although he could provide his legal residency in the United States.
Ryan Wolting, the officer that pulled Cruz-Zamora over, didn’t speak Spanish so he opted to use, and rely on, Google Translate to carry out the conversation between himself and Cruz-Zamora. Officer Wolting used Google Translate to get permission from Cruz-Zamora to search his vehicle because he was carrying a large amount of cash. During this search, a substantial amount of cocaine and meth was found in the vehicle. Officer Wolting then arrested Cruz-Zamora while charging him with intent to distribute a controlled substance.
The defense argued that no consent was given to the officer to search his vehicle because Cruz-Zamora could not understand the questions Officer Wolting was asking. Two separate experts were brought into the hearing in order to solve this issue. Both of these professional language interpreters warned that Google Translate, along with other AI’s for translation, were not nuanced enough in order to facilitate and carry out a full, entire conversation between two people.
If someone types into Google Translate, “Can I search the car?” and ask for a Spanish translation from English, Google will give you, “¿Puedo buscar el auto?” Technically, this is accurate. However, if you reverse this and type in “¿Puedo buscar el auto?” and ask for an English translation from Spanish, Google will give you, “Can I find the car?”
Ultimately, the judge ruled in favor of Cruz-Zamora due to the simple fact that the professional court interpreters stated that Google Translate would provide translations that were innacurate. Thus, being questionable whether or not the defendant actually consented for Officer Wolting to search his vehicle.
Google Translate is not good enough for the court system. A good rule of thumb is that if it isn’t good enough for your Spanish teacher in school, it won’t be good enough for legal or other business proceedings. While Google continues to work on the improvement of the quality of translations, mostly with the help of others in the community and not actual Google Employees or professional interpreters, they hope to change that one day, but that day is not today.
If you have a legal or professional business need for language translation, always consult a professional. A human professional.