Criminal Defense of Immigrants


§ 4.18 (A)

Skip to § 4.

For more text, click "Next Page>"

(A)  In General.  The attorney, in selecting an appropriate interpreter, must match the defendant’s language and dialect exactly enough to enable accurate interpretation between English and the client’s native tongue.  The interpreter must also be skilled and experienced enough to interpret complex syntax and demanding legal vocabulary into language the defendant, who may not have had much formal education, can fully understand.


“Courtroom speakers use formal legal English, standard English, colloquial English, and various subcultural varieties of English, dictated by familiarity, custom, necessity, and strategy. Badgering and impeachment of witnesses through imprecise, compound, and even ambiguous questions, is commonplace in the courtroom. The inherent­ly complex characteristics of legal English, and the legal shorthand frequently used by attorneys and judges, further complicates the interpreting task. A competent interpreter must be able to interpret all levels of language.”[51]


An interpreter must not only translate the words from one language into another, s/he must preserve the language level, tone, style, and intent of the speaker.  S/he must be able to change from one type of language to another very quickly and without warning.  The interpreter must have accurate memory, intense concentration, and sharp analytical skills. The vocabulary in both languages must be of considerable depth and breadth, and must include legal terms, concepts, and procedures.  The interpreter must be able to perform all these linguistic tasks and have the ability to engage in either simultaneous or consecutive interpretation.


[51] Kay, Ramirez & Hill, Using Interpreters, in Cultural Issues in Criminal Defense 2-1 (J. Connell & R. Valladares, eds., 2003), citing United States v. Mosquera, 816 F. Supp. 168, 171 (E.D.N.Y. 1993) (Weinstein, J.); Mendiola v. State, 924 S.W.2d 157, 161 (Tex. App. 1995).