Language Access in Criminal Court Proceedings

A deaf man convicted of DUI had his conviction overturned on appeal because he was denied a sign language interpreter during his trial. (2011)

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a drug and gun conviction on the grounds that a district judge erred by admitting comments made by the suspect after he was given the Miranda warning in English and poor Spanish.

The news article begins by saying: Washington: A divided federal appeals court Tuesday ordered a new sentencing hearing in a drug case in which the presiding judge dismissed a Spanish-language interpreter after the defendant said he wanted to proceed in English.

All these articles illustrate very significant issues:

  1. Timely interpreting services is vital: all parties and officers of the court in court proceedings require timely interpretation and translation services to avoid:
    • Jeopardizing a person’s life, liberty, and property;
    • Overturned convictions; and
    • Unnecessary waste of funds and resources during incarceration;
  2. Quality rendition: A poor interpretation of the Miranda rights resulted in an overturned drug conviction; and
  3. Timely translation: Though not illustrated in the previous stories, in some cases involving signed, untranslated written waivers, the court granted motions to remove a guilty plea.

Many states are under serious budget constraints.  Therefore, they cut corners in the budget for language services (interpreting and translation). The previous examples demonstrate that in the long run, the system needlessly squanders more money when language access is inadequately funded. Criminals can be freed to cause more harm while innocent people lose freedom.

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