Nobody really wants to return. Prosecutors seek a guilty verdict that sticks; defenders seek the best outcome possible for their clients. Victims don’t want to re-live the experience; they want to heal and move forward. This is also the case for defendants. When it comes to people with limited or lacking English proficiency, there are two big mistakes that can lead to an appeal.
No Interpreter: U.S. ex rel. Negron v, New York 1970
This case involved a Puerto Rican man in New York accused of killing a fellow worker during a drunken brawl. He was convicted of second-degree murder; the sentence was 20 years to life. The entire case was tried despite the fact that Mr. Negron was unable to speak with his defense counsel and did not understand what was being said.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the conviction on constitutional grounds in a decision that inspired Congress to pass the Federal Court Interpreters Act of 1978.
Despite clearly establishing a law requiring interpreters many decades ago, we still often hear of cases where defendants request interpreters, and the judge denies it. That opens the door for overturning a ruling through an appeal.
Incorrect Interpretation: Use of an uncertified, unqualified interpreter
In 2006, the 7th Judicial Circuit hired a non-certified interpreter who claimed to be fluent in Spanish. The 15-year sentence against Juan Ramon Alfonzo was tossed out when the Judge discovered that the interpreter provided an incomprehensible interpretation that confused Mr. Alfonzo. The Cuban native thought he had pleaded guilty to stealing a toolbox when in reality he was pleading guilty to stealing a dump truck.
That case resulted in a law in Florida being passed that required the use of certified interpreters.
Both cases simply illustrate the need to provide certified court interpreters (where certification is available) to comply with due process. Otherwise, there is a good chance that valuable resources will be wasted re-trying an appeal case.