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Criminal justice students had the right to remain silent, but lacked the capacity when two Norfolk Police detectives visited their Old Dominion University class Friday, sparking a lively dialogue and demonstrating how to read Miranda Rights in Spanish.

According to Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), before a law enforcement officer may question you regarding the possible commission of a crime, he or she must read you your Miranda Rights. He or she must also make sure that you understand them, and therein lies the basis for ODU's new course, Spanish 295:Spanish for Criminal and Human Service Professionals.

Albert Marra, adjunct assistant professor of foreign languages and literatures, teaches this new course and decided to liven things up on Friday by inviting detectives Benny Serrano, a police trainer and Gang Squad member, and Angel Reyes, also a trainer and former homicide detective. Both are originally from Puerto Rico and speak fluent Spanish.

"The Latino community here is growing by leaps and bounds," Reyes told the class. "If you can speak Spanish and you are looking for a job, believe me, you are in like Flynn! That is especially true for the women. A woman who speaks Spanish is going to have a job so fast it will make your jaw drop."

Reyes explained that due to the negative image many Latinos have of law enforcement and police brutality in their native countries, they often fear American police out of habit. "That gets much worse if the officer cannot speak Spanish," Reyes said. "We are tying to earn their trust and you guys learning Spanish - my hat is off to you and this university."

Students took turns Mirandizing the detectives and then the tables were turned when Marra informed the detectives that he had asked students to bring in toy weapons for the purpose of demonstrating how a proper stop-and-search with Miranda Rights should be done - all in Spanish.

Detective Serrano obliged when sophomore criminal justice major Nicholas Adams, 19, walked in late to class toting a "suspicious-looking" backpack. Explaining that being an arresting officer, in any culture, is not about being "muy macho," flaunting a badge and an attitude, but about communicating.

Serrano, in clear and fluent Spanish, informed Adams, whose command of the foreign language appeared to flag under the attention and extreme circumstances:

1. You have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer questions. Do you understand?
2. Anything you do say may be used against you in a court of law. Do you understand?
3. You have the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police and to have an attorney present during questioning now or in the future. Do you understand?
4. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you before any questioning if you wish. Do you understand?
5. If you decide to answer questions now without an attorney present you will still have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to an attorney. Do you understand?
6. Knowing and understanding your rights as I have explained them to you, are you willing to answer my questions without an attorney present?

After the demonstration, Adams reloaded his pockets and hefted his backpack, saying with a smile, "Yeah, I can see how that would be hard when you don't understand everything they're saying."

This article was posted on: April 21, 2006

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