- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 13, 2008

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Maryland’s highest court is weighing whether a lower court judge acted appropriately when she dismissed child sex-abuse charges against the defendant in part because an interpreter could not be found.

Circuit Judge Katherine D. Savage was criticized after her decision in July to dismiss charges against Mahamu F. Kanneh because, she said, his right to a speedy trial was violated.

Nearly three years passed between Mr. Kanneh’s arrest and the dismissal. Much of the delay was because the court encountered difficulty finding someone who could speak and translate the proceedings in Mr. Kanneh’s native language, a Liberian dialect called Vai.

Retired Judge Dale R. Cathell, hearing Maryland’s appeal of the dismissal yesterday, expressed frustration with the delay and the freeing of a criminal suspect.

“What happens when it’s impossible, period, to find an interpreter for some vague dialect in the middle of the Amazon jungle?” he asked. “What happens, the case stays in limbo until someone else emigrates from that part of Brazil?”

Mr. Kanneh was accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting a 7-year-old girl. He has been ordered to be deported to Liberia, but that country has not agreed to take him back, said Assistant Attorney General Kathryn Grill Graeff.

Mr. Kanneh remains in custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Miss Graeff argued that the reasons for the delay, including the interpreter issue and the need to obtain DNA testing, should not be held against the state. It is the court’s responsibility, not the prosecutor’s, to find an interpreter, she argued, and everyone involved in the case made serious efforts to find someone who could translate.

The first Vai interpreter found the case so disturbing that she fled the courtroom. She also was unable to do simultaneous interpretation. The second interpreter had just undergone surgery, was in pain and did not know whether she could sit through the trial. A third interpreter was present when Judge Savage dismissed the charges.

Assistant public defender Amy E. Brennan disagreed with Judge Savage’s statement when she granted Mr. Kanneh’s motion to dismiss the charges that the efforts to get an interpreter had been “Herculean.”

“I would suggest to the court that what we have in terms of the court’s efforts, the timing of the efforts, the record does not support that there was a diligent pursuit of a translator or an interpreter from the get-go,” Miss Brennan said.

Mr. Kanneh was arrested in August 2004 after witnesses told police that he raped and repeatedly sexually molested the girl, a relative.

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