Criminal Defense of Immigrants


§ 4.10 2. Proceedings Interpreter

Skip to § 4.

For more text, click "Next Page>"

The second function served by an interpreter in a criminal case is to attend all court proceedings at which the defendant is present, and translate the English language court proceedings into the client’s language as they occur.  This function is best served by simultaneous interpretation.  Courts are unwilling to pause after every sentence or two, to allow consecutive interpretation to occur.  This means the proceedings interpreter must be highly skilled in simultaneous interpretation.  If an interpreter with such skills cannot be obtained, it may be necessary to ask the court to allow consecutive interpretation, despite the delays that are necessary to accomplish that, in order for the client to obtain an accurate understanding of the proceedings as they occur so as to be able to consult with counsel, point out errors only the client would recognize, and serve all the other essential functions the defendant serves in achieving a fair trial.


                It is possible for a defense interpreter to serve as proceedings interpreter in the same case, assuming the court is willing to pause in the proceedings whenever defense counsel consults with the defendant, since the proceedings interpreter cannot possibly both interpret the attorney-client conversation and also pay attention to and simultaneously translate the proceedings in court at the same time. If the court is not prepared to freeze the proceedings to allow attorney-client consultation, the right of the defendant to consult with counsel is being denied while the interpreter is translating the proceedings into the client’s language, a constitutionally objectionable practice.


                It may be possible for a witness interpreter to serve simultaneously as a proceedings interpreter for the defendant, but not if the interpreter is simultaneously responsible for interpreting attorney-client conversations.[30]

[30] People v Aguilar, 677 P.2d 1198 (Cal. 1984) (defendant was deprived of state constitutional right to a proceedings interpreter when the trial court “borrowed” defendant’s defense interpreter to translate testimony of two state witnesses).