A US court last month ruled a resounding no- Google Translate cannot be used to obtain consent for police business, such as vehicle searches. The ruling comes after Mexican native, Omar Cruz-Zamora, was pulled over by a police officer, Ryan Wolting, in Kansas. Cruz- Zamora had very little understanding of English, so the officer communicated with Cruz-Zamora via google translate. During this conversation, the officer made a request (still through the medium of Google Translate) to search Cruz-Zamora’s vehicle.

By law, Cruz- Zamora had to clearly and freely consent to the search of his car, or the search would be illegal. However, as the conversation where consent was requested took place via Google Translate, the exchange between him and the police officer was not clear. Several times during the exchange Cruz- Zamora expressed confusion, stating he did not understand what he was being asked.

The officers request to search the car was translated via Google Translate as “¿Puedo buscar el auto?”, which, according to a professional translator consulting on the case, although each word individually was translated correctly, the sentence as a whole was not. The interpreter concluded that the question that was presented to the defendant via Google Translate was “not the question Wolting meant to ask”.

During the search, 14 pounds of cocaine and methamphetamines were found, meaning Cruz-Zamora was charged with possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance. However, due to the officer communicating with the defendant via Google Translate, the court concluded that Cruz-Zamora could not fully understand what was being asked and therefore could not have clearly consented to the search. As a consequence, his Motion to Suppress evidence was granted, meaning all evidence found in the car must be dismissed by both judge and jury in the trial.

This ruling was solidified by the fact that Officer Wolting was fully aware that a legal interpreter could easily have been called to interpret for the defendant, as well as the fact that there is no proof of what questions Wolting actually asked the defendant, as audio and video recordings cannot pick up what was typed into Google Translate by Wolting.

Two professional interpreters were consulted for this case and both testified that they do not believe because it is acceptable to use Google Translate to obtain consent for police searches as “Google Translate is not a reliable translation service […] and cannot take context into consideration.”

The full court report can be read HERE


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