Whether spoken or written, words lost or miscommunicated due to inadequate interpretation or translation may interfere with the court’s ability to determine the facts and administer justice. For limited English proficient (LEP) individuals, accurate interpretation is the only way that they communicate their side of the story, preserve their evidence for the record, and challenge the testimony of adverse witnesses.
Interpretation requires a high level of fluency in two languages, and skill in conveying—sometimes simultaneously—what is being said. Interpreters who have not been properly trained or assessed will likely have trouble understanding or accurately conveying important information, including difficult legal terminology.
“[S]imply providing ‘any’ interpreter upon request is insufficient….it is imperative to ensure accurate interpretation throughout the proceedings lest we run the risk of diminishing our system of justice by infringing upon the defendant’s rights of due process.” – Ponce v. State, Indiana Supreme Court, 2014
Interpreters must also follow ethical standards to avoid providing advice, expressing bias, or otherwise engaging in inappropriate side conversations with LEP persons. In one case, an LEP defendant accepted a plea agreement during a hearing in which the interpreter inaccurately interpreted his rights. Later, he petitioned for post-conviction relief. The Supreme Court of Indiana reversed and remanded the case, concluding that because the advisement of rights was inaccurately interpreted, the defendant did not knowingly and voluntarily enter his guilty plea.
An LEP defendant deserves justice. That requires a duly qualified judge who has been elected or appointed, attorneys who are duly licensed to practice law in the state where the defendant has been accused, and interpreters who are duly certified (where certification for said language[s] exists) by passing the oral exam, thereby demonstrating the minimum acceptable level for court interpretation.