District Court, West Jordan Department The Honorable Mark S.
Kouris No. 131400411
Rebecca Hyde Skordas and Kaytlin Virginia Beckett, Attorneys
D. Reyes and Kris C. Leonard, Attorneys for Appellee
Kate A. Toomey authored this Opinion, in which Judges Gregory
K. Orme and Michele M. Christiansen concurred.
Adel Adnan Abdul Aziz appeals from his convictions of
aggravated assault with serious bodily injury, a second
degree felony, see Utah Code Ann. §
76-5-103(3)(a) (LexisNexis Supp. 2017), and intoxication, a
class C misdemeanor, see id. § 76-9-701(1), (7)
(2012). Aziz contends he did not receive a fair trial because
of alleged errors in the interpretation of an Arabic-speaking
witness's trial testimony. Aziz also contends the
district court erred in excluding a portion of his medical
expert's testimony. We affirm.
In March 2013, Aziz went to a bar with his friend (Friend).
After they began pushing one another, the two men caught the
attention of several bar security personnel. Two of these
security guards approached the men to speak to them about
their scuffle. Aziz responded aggressively: first by making a
gun gesture with his hand and placing it against his head and
pulling the trigger, and then by pushing one of the security
guards (M.C.). The second security guard (Victim) stepped in
and attempted to escort Aziz away from the dance floor. But
Aziz pulled Victim toward him, and the two began to struggle.
As Aziz and Victim struggled, M.C. grabbed Friend and began
pulling him toward the exit.
After Aziz and Victim struggled for a few seconds, Aziz
latched onto Victim's cheek with his teeth. When Aziz
would not release the bite, Victim became concerned that Aziz
"was going to rip off a piece of [his] face."
Following the intervention of another security guard (T.S.),
Aziz finally released his bite. But the damage was already
done. Aziz had bitten off a quarter-sized piece of flesh from
Victim's cheek. Victim and T.S. then escorted Aziz outside
and held him there until the police arrived.
When the police arrived, Aziz told a different story.
According to Aziz, Victim "came up from behind him"
and wrapped his arm around Aziz's neck, so he bit Victim.
Although Victim did not deny that he put Aziz in a chokehold,
he testified that it did not happen until after Aziz had
bitten him. Aziz was later found to have a blood alcohol
level of .212.
Friend testified at Aziz's preliminary hearing. Friend
told the court that he had brought a friend with him to serve
as an interpreter. But because Friend's interpreter was
not certified and because Friend appeared to have a good
grasp of the English language, the court decided to proceed
without the aid of a court interpreter for Friend, unless it
became clear that Friend needed one. Except for one question
that required clarification, Friend did not have trouble
testifying in English. Friend testified that, as Aziz was
being escorted outside, he saw two security guards grabbing,
pushing, and punching Aziz. Friend did not testify that he
saw either the chokehold or the bite and said he did not see
Aziz's face near Victim's face.
At trial, Aziz was assigned a court-appointed Arabic
interpreter. Aziz did not testify, but Friend did. Although
Friend had little difficulty testifying in English at the
preliminary hearing, defense counsel said Friend needed an
interpreter during his trial testimony and suggested that
Aziz's interpreter provide interpretation. The court was
somewhat hesitant about the arrangement, but neither party
objected to it. The State did, however, ask Aziz to raise
his hand if he had any difficulty hearing the interpretation.
Friend's trial testimony, through the interpreter, was
consistent with his preliminary hearing testimony. On direct
examination, Friend testified that security personnel
"grabbed" and "captured" Aziz. Defense
counsel asked Friend to elaborate on how the security team
captured Aziz. Friend explained, through the interpreter,
"They took him, . . . they grabbed him by hands and . .
. they control[led] him and they took him outside."
Friend then testified that he followed them outside and that
one of the security guards "captured" and
"grabbed" him as well. Defense counsel asked
Friend, "Did you ever see [Aziz] bite anyone?"
Friend's answer, through the interpreter, was
unresponsive. Nevertheless, defense counsel did not
repeat the question, and the State did not ask about it on
Aziz's defense rested on the theory that Victim choked
Aziz before the bite occurred and that the bite was either in
self-defense or that the chokehold put him in a seizure-like
state, causing him to bite Victim involuntarily. Friend's
testimony was used to demonstrate self-defense. And Aziz
called a medical expert (Expert) to testify that the bite
could have been involuntary and that the nature of the wound
suggested it was defensive. The court allowed Expert to
testify about how the bite could have occurred involuntarily,
but because Expert was not a forensic dentist, it did not
allow him to testify that the nature of Victim's wound
suggested a defensive bite.
After closing arguments, the jury returned guilty verdicts on
both charges. One month later, before sentencing, Aziz filed
a motion to arrest judgment or, in the alternative, for a new
trial on the ground that critical portions of the
interpretation of Friend's trial testimony were defective
and that an accurate translation would have "given rise
to reasonable doubt in the minds of the jury as to the
element of intent." To support his claim, Aziz attached
a purported corrected interpretation performed by an
individual referred to in this opinion as J.A. J.A. did not
identify himself as an interpreter-certified or not- or as
being fluent in Arabic; he merely stated that he
"listened to the [testimony] and translated it to the
best of [his] knowledge."
Although J.A. took issue with several portions of the
interpretation of Friend's testimony, only two portions
are material. First, when defense counsel asked Friend what
he meant by "captured, " the court-appointed
interpreter interpreted Friend's response as saying,
"They grabbed [Aziz] by their hands, like they-like a
hug or they grabbed him by hand." According to J.A.,
Friend actually used an Arabic word meaning
Second, when defense counsel asked Friend to describe how
Aziz was captured, according to the ...