Criminal Defense of Immigrants


§ 3.8 2. Non English Speaking Clients

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Clients who speak only a foreign language and clients who are not fluent in English may require an interpreter, either to translate between lawyer and client, to translate court proceedings and documents, or both.[13]  See Chapter 4, infra.


                Counsel should probe carefully whether the client is fluent (able to converse) or literate (able to read and write) in English and in the client’s native language.  Be aware that for many Spanish-speakers, Spanish is not their native language.  Often, a Mexican client’s mother tongue may be Kanjobal or another of the 22 or so Mayan languages, and Spanish is the client’s second language.

                It is important to obtain an interpreter who is not allied in interest with the prosecution or immigration authorities.  Often, nongovernmental social work agencies can help.  A disinterested interpreter is usually preferable to one of the client’s family members who may intrude his or her own personality and biases into the interview, and in whose presence the client may be ashamed to tell the truth.  As a last resort, a family member or friend may have to do.


[13] The client, in fact, has a right to an interpreter under the Constitution.  See Chapter 4, infra.