What If I Need an Interpreter at Jail?

Criminal lawyers obtain their clients by private retention and appointment by the judge.  Before trial or a plea, the attorney meets with potential witnesses, conducts attorney?client meetings, including phone calls and jail visits, and appears in court. What happens if the monolingual lawyer has a client who is deaf, hard of hearing, or limited English proficient (LEP)? How does he retain an interpreter? Why does he even have to bother?

The main reason an attorney needs a court interpreter for jail visits (and other above-mentioned settings) is to comply with the South Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct for Attorneys. No one wants the Bar to receive a letter of complaint.  How can that happen?

According to State law, you can’t use just any bilingual person.  As a matter of law, you cannot use another inmate to communicate with your client.  All signed- and spoken-language interpreters are bilingual, but not all bilingual people are competent to interpret.  Court interpreters are professionals who have advanced knowledge, skills and abilities that differentiate them from bilingual persons who simply speak two languages. Court interpreters must be able to do sight translation, simultaneous and consecutive interpreting. Summarizing, paraphrasing, changing or omitting is not acceptable.

Here are three supporting arguments for using an interpreter who has demonstrated the minimum standards of proficiency. 

Rule 1.4 of the South Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct for lawyers requires you to engage in reasonable and prompt communication with your client, ensuring that the client has enough information and understanding to participate in the representation. SCACR Section 511 Rule 1 states that court interpreters must be accurate.  Additionally, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1991 requires accommodation for deaf and hard of hearing clients. 

Rule 1.3 of the Rules of Professional Conduct requires you to provide prompt and diligent representation of all clients.  A language barrier should not delay due process.  State law, the ADA of 1991, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Title VI regulations, prohibit discrimination based on disability and national origin. 

Rule 1.6 of the Rules of Professional Conduct requires you to maintain confidentiality. Certified court interpreters also follow their Rule 5 by maintaining all information confidential. You risk destroying attorney-client privilege (and violating the law) when using untrained interpreters, family members, bilingual inmates, bilingual law enforcement and correctional facility staff.

How can you find a certified court interpreter? You can contact the Chief Justice’s administrative arm, Court Administration.  The Director of Court Interpreters is Karama T. Bailey.  Court Administration’s telephone number is (803) 734-1800. The dedicated e-mail address is SCCICP@sccourts.org.  Respectfully request that the South Carolina Court Interpreter Directory be made public on www.sccourts.org so you can access it. 

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