Are courts doing enough to provide qualified translators?

Our nation is made up of about 26.5 million residents with limited proficiency in the English language. What do state courts do to ensure that qualified interpreters are translating for these individuals? Not always enough. An article published in 2016 by PBS shines a light on this problem which has been gaining recent attention.

“Eight states don’t certify court interpreters. Thirty-two of the 42 states that do certify interpreters require that courts give a preference to those who are certified, but many interpreters say the policy is not always followed.” Sometimes a nearby probation officer, family member, or fellow inmate is called upon to interpret. Additionally, some states have been ignoring federal law which requires interpretation services to be provided free of charge.

Ineffective translation can be catastrophic

This is not a small issue-the result of ineffective translation can be catastrophic in court. The article describes one instance where a non-English speaking criminal defendant stated, “I went over to the table to chat,” which was translated as, “I went over to the table to cause trouble.” In another case, a man was criminally charged with a traffic “violation,” which was translated as “rape”.

Attorneys and individuals who are in need of legal services need to be aware of this issue. It is essential for ensuring the constitutional rights of 26.5 million people are properly and effectively protected in court.