Criminal Defense of Immigrants


§ 4.28 2. Duty to Object

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Because the work of language interpretation is so difficult, and the courtroom environment so challenging, interpreter errors occur frequently, sometimes minor, sometimes so major the entire outcome of the case can hang in the balance.[82]  These errors can not only alter the apparent meaning of the language used, but can also damage the way a witness or defendant is perceived by the jury.[83]  For example, a defendant can be made to appear shifty and unreliable by actions of the interpreter when the opposite is the case.

[82] State v. Casipe, 686 P.2d 28, 33 (Haw. Ct. App. 1984); State v. Thanh Van Pham, 675 P.2d 848, 860 (Kan. 1984); State v. Mitjans, 408 N.W.2d 824, 832 (Minn. 1987); State v. Kan Ting Fung, 907 P.2d 1192, 1194 (Utah Ct. App. 1995); Stubblefield v. Commonwealth, 392 S.E.2d 197, 200 (Va. Ct. App. 1990); see also People v. Koch, 618 N.E.2d 647, 655 (Ill. App. Ct. 1993) (“Minor testimonial inconsistencies arising from linguistic misunderstandings do not warrant reversal of a conviction.”); State v. Mora, 618 A.2d 1275, 1281 (R.I. 1993) (holding that interpreter errors did not cause defendant to receive a fundamentally unfair trial).

[83] See State v. New Chue Her, 510 N.W.2d 218, 222-23 (Minn. Ct. App. 1994). One study concluded that errors influence the outcome of a legal proceedings, leaving mock jurors with a “significantly different social-psychological evaluation of a witness’s trust-worthiness, convincingness, intelligence, and competence.” S. Berk-Seligson, The Bilingual Courtroom: Court Interpreters in the Judicial Process 11 (1990).