Language barriers and translation issues on Tuesday forced a Merced County judge to suspend a preliminary hearing for a man charged with sexually assaulting two college students.
Juan J. Rocha, 56, has pleaded not guilty to a felony count of rape and a misdemeanor count of sexual battery in connection with the alleged assaults earlier this year of two Merced Community College students from Japan.
A preliminary hearing got underway Tuesday, but Judge Marc A. Garcia halted proceedings after it became clear that the Japanese interpreter was not accurately translating questions from both attorneys. Garcia said that a scarcity of certified Japanese interpreters in the state led the court to agree to use an interpreter who was not court-certified.
“There are only eight certified interpreters in California,” Garcia noted. “But it’s clear to the court that the interpreter is not interpreting accurately, and clearly there’s a disconnect between the interpreter and the witness.”
Rocha listened to Tuesday’s proceedings with the help of a certified Spanish-language translator.
Deputy District Attorney Gerad Egan and defense attorney John Garcia supported the judge’s ruling. The hearing was rescheduled for Feb. 4. The judge said the court would use a certified Japanese interpreter at the next hearing.
Charges against Rocha stem from incidents in July when the women, ages 18 and 20, told police that Rocha had sexually assaulted them at his home. They are Japanese citizens and became acquainted with Rocha while attending college in Merced, according to documents filed in Merced County Superior Court.
He was arrested July 22 and later posted bail, according to court records.
The Merced County District Attorney’s Office has not ruled out the possibility of seeking additional charges against Rocha after the full preliminary hearing, Egan said.
Before proceedings were interrupted on Tuesday, the 18-year-old student testified that Rocha raped her on July 10 in his home. She said she told Rocha to stop several times, but he refused.
The woman said Rocha pinned her to the ground and she was unable to escape. She also said she was afraid because Rocha was known to carry a knife, but she said she did not see any weapons at the time of the assault.
According to a Merced Police Department report, Rocha apologized to one of the women during a recorded phone conversation. He apologized for “displaying himself nude in front of her and inviting her to have sex and also offering her money for sex,” the report filed by Detective Raquel Rios says.
Police said Rocha told them he had only engaged in consensual sexual acts with the women and denied forcing himself on them. He told police the 20-year-old woman had agreed to have sex with him in exchange for $10,000, the report says.
“He told me that he had taken advantage (of the students) and now he was paying the consequences,” Rios wrote in her report. “He told me he wished none of this had happened and now he sees that he should never even had either one of them in his residence.”
Rocha told police he “partially blamed” both women because they had previously “accepted hugs,” the report says.
“He told me he thought it was actually their fault as well because if they would have rejected him from the very onset with hugs, he would have stopped,” Rios wrote in the report.
Rocha remains free on bail.