“In Many Courtrooms, Bad Interpreters Can Mean Justice Denied”

The first step of the scientific method is to find a topic of interest and formulate a question you want to answer. Having already found the topic we, Professor Merton and I, are going to be conducting the research for, I am reading material and gaining as much insight and knowledge of what information is already other there. Professor Merton showered me with packets of information and recently sent me an article that I thought was too good not to share. The title of the article is the title of today’s blog post, I highly recommend you look it up and read it. Right below the title of the article there is a picture of a sign posted at the door with court rules/reminders. The middle one says “interpreters are NOT provided in this court. You must provide your own.” The implication of this sign is huge because it is an accurate representation of many courts in this country and shows the lack of a significant resource and tool of important use to many.  The article then starts off by sharing a story of a courtroom proceeding in Chesterfield, Virginia where an interpreter translated the world violation to “violacion”.  Meaning the man was no longer being accused of a traffic violation, but instead of rape.  This meant the crime went from being an infraction to a felony one and took the penalty from being a fee to possible life behind bars. When reading this article my initial assumptions were confirmed. The translation of a word carries vast weight in a court room, and this is being overlooked. This story is an example of many stories around the country. Like the article states these mistakes are common in state and local courts, due to the fact that many states and localities don’t use tested court interpreters and ignore federal rules. The article then goes on to talk about the problems that come with this such as people being unable to protect or enforce their legal rights due to language barrier and the reliance on an interpreter. The federal courts have a competitive test that certifies court interpreters stating they are qualified to translate in a court room. The state and local courts test isn’t as demanding, and don’t certify one’s ability to interpret, therefor allowing many uncertified interpreters to serve in a court room. The article reinforces the idea that the interpreters’ job is so crucial not just for the person that doesn’t speak English, but for the lawyer and judge to be able to efficiently complete their job as well.

When there aren’t any interpreters readily available, Judges ask of anyone in the court room or a family member of the defendants to interpret for them. This leaves the interpretation, to in some cases a stranger, someone who is not knowledgeable of the case, and someone who doesn’t have particular interest that the translation goes well or the benefits of the individuals in mind. In some cases interpreters who aren’t certified are just bi-lingual speakers, like the article says, this presents problems of its own because although these people speak the language doesn’t make their vocabulary extensive or mean that they are able to communicate in “technical legal language.” The certification measures someone’s language skills, vocabulary and ability to interpret at a good pace.

The article finishes off by stating the additional problems that this brings to the whole system. Reading this article solidified my passion and desire to complete the research for this study. A word, the translation and every aspect that goes into the interpretation in a court room can mark the difference of consequences to the life, liberty, and family and property interest of an individual. With 8 states currently not certifying interpreters our research is crucial and it must be done in a timely manner.

Beitsch, Rebecca. “In Many Courtrooms, Bad Interpreters Can Mean Justice Denied.” In Many Courtrooms, Bad Interpreters Can Mean Justice Denied. The Pew Charitable Trusts, 17 Aug. 2016. Web. 19 Aug. 2016.

How the idea for this research study came to be

When Professor Merton and I first met, we had some trouble deciding which direction or topic we wanted to focus our research on, especially since a research project can be so vague and taken in so many directions. We knew that we wanted to conduct research that would have real impact, and bring new knowledge to a dynamic field of current interest while alleviating the questions and concerns of both professionals and average citizens.  Based on Professor Merton’s current work and experience with the Immigration Justice Clinic at Pace Law School, as well as my personal background, we decided to explore the role of interpreters and translators in the practice of Immigration law.  

We started brainstorming and identifying issues that could be addressed. Interpreters play such an essential role in Immigration Court and before immigration agencies. Their interpretation and translation of testimony, stories, facts and events are the foundation of the decision-making of judges and immigration agents.  Interpreters become the voice of clients. They also facilitate the exchange of communication between the client and his/her lawyer. Yet because the government is not required to provide interpretation and translation services during most interactions with immigrants, many of these interpreters are volunteers, neither trained nor required to possess any particular background or knowledge. Often they are children or youth pressed into communicating about terribly serious and difficult subjects on behalf of their beloved family members. This could be and frequently is traumatic even for mature professionals; for the “informal interpreters” who must cope with such great responsibility despite a complete lack of preparation, it is an enormous challenge.

What is it that makes the difference between a good and bad interpreter? How do emotion and feeling come into play when interpreting? What training or knowledge would be of use or, on the contrary, detrimental to develop more competent and comfortable informal interpreters? With all these questions in mind we decided to work on creating some type of guide or relatively rapid training program to enable informal interpreters to achieve a much higher level of skill, technique, and professionalism. We will test our guidance model on informal interpreters who are assisting clients of the Law School’s immigration clinics, and based on their feedback and experience, refine and amplify the scope of our orientation and teaching materials.