By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law
As long-time readers know, I am a member of the Hon. Joseph B. Campbell American Inn of Court. Last night was a monthly meeting, and the program was one of the best since I became a member in the earlier part of the last decade. The program included a skit that showed how interpreters were used in a criminal trial, both with American Sign Language interpreters and Spanish interpreters. When I was a Deputy City Attorney for the City of San Bernardino, the court interpreters were invaluable in communicating with primarily monolingual Spanish speakers in code enforcement cases. While the performers in the skit provided a great deal of information, here is some information derived from the hand outs:
How To Use a Court Interpreter
The interpreter is your voice in court.
So, it is important to . . .
Listen carefully to the interpreter.
Wait for the interpreter to finish talking before your answer.
Do not speak in English, even if you speak a little. It is confusing for the judge.
Do not interrupt, even if someone in court says something bad about you. You will get a chance to speak.
Take notes. If someone says something untrue, write it down. Then when it is your turn to speak, you can tell the judge your side.
Source: How to Use a Court Interpreter, Superior Court of California, County of San Bernardino, pamphlet in English and Spanish, undated.
Additionally, a handout with the title of the presentation, “Lost in Translation” dated January 2013 says:
Our guest Spanish Language Interpreters ask that we, as attorneys and judicial officers, always keep the following things in mind . . .
- Don’t speak fast.
- Don’t use humor or figures of speech. [Note: The examples given were, “you’re really in a pickle” or “bird of a different feather”]
- Don’t give the jury instruction on interpreters or modify it.
[Note: The interpreter referred to CALJIC Instruction 121 which reads:
“Some testimony may be given in <insert name or description of language other than English>. An interpreter will provide a translation for you at the time that the testimony is given. You must rely on the translation provided by the interpreter, even if you understand the language spoken by the witness. Do not retranslate any testimony for other jurors. If you believe the court interpreter translated testimony incorrectly, let me know immediately by writing a note and giving it to the (clerk/bailiff).” The notes state: “The committee recommends that this instruction be given whenever testimony will be received with the assistance of an interpreter, though no case has held that the court has a sua sponte duty to give the instruction. The instruction may be given at the beginning of the case, when the person requiring translation testifies, or both, at the court’s discretion. If a transcript of a tape in a foreign language will be used, the court may modify this instruction. (See Ninth Circuit Manual of Model Jury Instructions, Criminal Cases, Instruction No. 2.8 (2003).) If the court chooses, the instruction may also be modified and given again at the end of the case, with all other instructions.”
The interpreter presenting strongly objected to the part of the instruction which states: “If you believe the court interpreter translated testimony incorrectly, let me know immediately by writing a note” undermined the certified interpreter’s training and experience and emphasized that the instruction was not mandatory, and that the judicial officer could leave that objectionable line out of the instruction.]
- Always speak directly. [Note: attorneys should speak to the witness, and the witness should answer the attorney. Do not speak to the interpreter directly].
- Beware of false cognates.
- Spanish is 30% longer than English.
- The Only person who never stops speaking during proceedings is the interpreter.
The American Sign Language interpreters said that they are required to provide a translation that included emotions such as shouting or sarcasm. The Spanish language interpreters said that it was a matter of style for them to provide the translation in the same tone or volume.
Thank you to the leaders of the Inn for providing such an educational program, particularly Judge John Pacheco and Donna Connally, and to the court interpreters that helped us understand the process.
The information you obtain at this blog is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is established by reading or commenting on this blog. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.
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