Translation glitch delays hearing on whether evidence from Savoy drug raid can be admitted at trial | Crime

PITTSFIELD — Two New York defendants wearing dark suits waited in Courtroom 1 while their Boston-area attorney chatted with court staff.

Everything seemed set for the start of a long-scheduled hearing on a motion to suppress evidence in a drug case. An assistant district attorney had his witnesses lined up and an interpreter was on hand to translate English into Cantonese – and vice versa.

But the hearing was canceled on Monday, after a Berkshire Superior Court judge ruled that something was missing: absolute certainty that the defendants would understand what was being said during the proceedings.

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Deming Wu and Yebin Mai face charges of trafficking marijuana in connection with an illicit cannabis grow operation at 72 Jackson Road in Savoy raided by state police in 2020. Police said they seized 3,598 marijuana plants worth over $3 million on the street.

In earlier proceedings, the defendants decided to suppress evidence collected during a state police raid on July 31, 2020.

Both defendants speak Cantonese, a dialect of the Chinese language. Although the interpreter was present, she told Judge Maureen Hogan that she wanted to maintain physical distance from the defendants, due to concerns about COVID-19, and wanted to sit behind them to further avoid a possible exposure.

When questioned by Hogan, it emerged that neither the interpreter nor the court had any electronic devices to augment communication, leaving the audience in doubt.

In an effort to salvage the session, Hogan called a break and asked the interpreter and court staff to see if the necessary equipment was available. Phone calls to achieve this quickly failed.

In cannabis plea, defendant would give up Savoy home and $101,000 seized after 2020 state police raid

The judge having left the courtroom, the interpreter suggested a seating arrangement that would allow the defendants to sit at a table normally used by the probation service, while she sat behind them, with the prosecutor Amy Winston and defense attorney Matthew Chin to her right.

Hogan returned to court, observed the arrangement, asked a few questions – and said no.

“I have to be sure everything is interpreted for the defendants,” she told the courtroom. “I’m not sure that will work.”

The case has been postponed for a week for a status conference convened remotely, with the actual hearing on the motion to dismiss to be held, in person, on a date to be determined on May 24.

Hogan said next week’s conference will determine if translation logistics can be worked out, “and then we’ll plan the hearing.”

A third defendant, Bin Huang, has negotiated a plea deal with prosecutors, Winston confirmed to the judge on Monday.

In an earlier court appearance, a judge was told of an agreement under which Huang would relinquish ownership of the Savoy home, as well as $101,000 seized from a bank account. Huang is represented by attorney Neil F. Faigel.