The Importance of
By: Leah Ostrander
What is a court interpreter?
The title of a court interpreter is a competitive class position that is
responsible for interpreting between English and other languages in
the courtroom. Court interpreters also assist non-English speaking
people in the ﬁlling out of forms and preparing complaints. Also, they
perform some clerical tasks and answer routine inquiries from the
Responsibilities of a Court
*Knowledge of modes of court interpreting
*Accuracy during interpretation
*Impartiality in the courtroom
*Conﬁdentiality throughout the courtroom
Types of Courtroom Interpreting
Simultaneous Mode: this requires that the interpreter speaks concurrent with
the speaker whose statements are being interpreted.
Consecutive Mode: this requires that the interpreter allow the speaker to
complete a statement or thought before giving his/her interpretation.
Sight Translation: this is the real time oral translation of a written document,
Accuracy During Interpretation
Court interpreters should faithfully and accurately interpret what is said
without elaboration or exclusion.
Court interpreters should also provide the most accurate interpretation of a
word despite a possible vulgar meaning.
An interpreter is not to tone down, improve, or edit any words or statements.
Impartiality in the Courtroom
Court interpreters should maintain an impartial view at all times and avoid
unnecessary contact or discussions with counsel, witnesses, or interested
Court interpreters should also not give legal advice.
Conﬁdentiality Throughout the
Court interpreters should not reveal any information considered conﬁdential
by the court.
This includes disclosures made outside of the court by non-English speaking or
Commonly Spoken Languages
within the Legal System
New York State courts offer the Arabic
services of interpreters in over
100 languages, such as: Mandarin
Cantonese Haitian Creole
Russia Sign Language
Why We Need Interpreters
Recently in the city of Newburgh, detectives did not use an
interpreter when they interviewed a 13-year-old accused of
murder. That mistake cost prosecutors crucial statements and
evidence with the potential to change the case’s outcome.
A 13-year-old was held responsible for fatally stabbing a 17-year-old boy in a
brawl, in January of 2010.
Detectives questioned the 13-year-old twice after the killing, and eventually
The young boy’s mother was present during both interviews, as required by
Family Court law. She doesn’t speak English, so one of the detectives who was
bilingual, read her the Miranda rights in Spanish.
The detective then questioned the boy, who speaks English, in English. His
Miranda rights were also read to him in English.
The defense attorney argued that the mother’s language barrier prevented
her from helping her son have a clear understanding of what police were
asking and the consequences of answering without proper counsel.
The Family Court Judge agreed with the defense attorney’s motion to
suppress the boy’s testimony.
Although this presented another problem, it was during that testimony that
the boy told detectives where he tossed a kitchen knife after the stabbing.
Since the recovery of the knife stemmed from prohibited statements, the
judge ruled that prosecutors wouldn’t be able to use the knife as evidence.
Prosecutors will still be able to use identiﬁcations made by two other people
who claimed to see the stabbing. Each picked the boy out of a photo array as
In the end, the boy was charged with second-degree murder.
If an interpreter had been present during all of the boy’s interviews the
outcome of the case could have been very different.
With an interpreter’s help, the mother would have been able to aide her son
in the interviews in many ways that she was incapable of because she didn’t
Even if all of your rights are read to you in your native language, you still
may not understand speciﬁc terminology, especially because most country’s
legal systems are different.
Court interpreters serve a fundamental role in justice
proceedings by ensuring that non-English speaking people
receive a fair trial in the judicial system.
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