Hispanic in a complicated trial: justice?
LULAC defends communication in trial.
Linguistic difficulties and judicial complications.
Communication barriers are the new argument presented by the defense of Virgilio Aguilar Méndez to declare the Guatemalan man incompetent. This is to avoid being tried for the natural death of an officer in Jacksonville, Florida.
In his last appearance in court, both the defense lawyers and the prosecution turned to experts to determine if the Hispanic man is capable of understanding the legal situation he is in.
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The immigrant has been charged with involuntary manslaughter and a felony for resisting after Michael Paul Kunovich died. Kunovich was a sergeant with the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Department who died on May 19, 2023, from a heart attack after his arrest. The charges against the Hispanic man could result in spending the rest of his life in prison.
Over the past seven months, his defenders have sought to secure his freedom and to have him trained in an appropriate agency.
What language does he speak?
For this reason, the defense invited forensic psychologist Yenys Castillo and neuropsychologist Yolanda León to testify in court, who believe that Aguilar Méndez is not competent to stand trial. This is due to the difficulty in communicating with him, even with the help of translators. According to the specialists in court, Aguilar has difficulty speaking English and struggles with Spanish, identifying his native language as Mam, an indigenous language from southern Mexico and southwestern Guatemala.
He couldn’t communicate
After reviewing a body cam recording of one of the officers involved in the procedure against the Guatemalan man, it was clear that he had difficulty understanding their orders. Aguilar was visibly frustrated at not being able to communicate and admitted that he does not speak English. The presiding judge, R. Lee Smith, stated that he needed more time to make a decision, and the date of the next hearing has not been announced.
How they approached him
Given the complexity of the case, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) has come out in defense of the Hispanic man. The association has described the judicial action taken so far as “premature and inappropriate.” According to LULAC, “The video of the incident clearly shows that the officer initiated contact with 18-year-old Aguilar Méndez in an unnecessarily accusatory and intimidating manner,” the association stated.
“It was not simply to gather information,” LULAC added in the statement.
“It is unfortunate that the officer died later”
“It is repugnant to witness three officers, none of whom speak Spanish, using a knee in the back and neck of a young man,” said Domingo García, national president of LULAC. “As well as a chokehold when he had not committed any crime and simply walking when he was confronted.”
“It is unfortunate that the officer later died. Nevertheless, we should not blame the young man who was the target of excessive force by the police,” he added.
In light of the arguments presented so far, LULAC “advocates for a fair and thorough investigation into the incident involving Virgilio Aguilar Méndez and Sgt. Michael Kunovich.”