Certified Court Interpreter for the Jury: Responsibilities and Challenges
There are many roles for certified legal interpreters in the justice system of the United States. One of the most commonly discussed roles is that of a court interpreter – working on behalf of an individual called to trial in some manner by the defense, prosecution, or even as the person on trial.
Less is said about court interpreters working on behalf of another member of the trial – a juror. However, this role is just as vital, and just as challenging, as that of a standard certified court interpreter. To understand why, we must first discuss the role of a jury in the United States legal system.
How is a jury selected and what do they do?
In the United States, juries are comprised of regular citizens over the age of 18 chosen at random in the state/jurisdiction where a trial is being held. In Massachusetts the annual census is used to determine the list from which people are randomly chosen. The responsibility of the jury is to listen to the evidence and arguments present from both sides in a trial, and make an un-biased judgment on which side eventually wins.
The actual jury chosen is not comprised of all citizens who are called in for jury duty. There are only 6-12 members on a regular jury (depending on the state), and these members are chosen from the before mentioned pool of randomly selected citizens. Thry are chosen through interviews by the presiding judge and both attorneys. This process is known as “Voir Dire”.
During this process, the attorneys have the ability to request an individual not be on a jury – they do this through two types of exemptions:
- Peremptory Challenges – this allows the attorneys to eliminate jurors without giving a specific reason. They are only allowed a certain number of these exemptions.
- Challenges for Cause – this type of exemption is based on the fact that the attorney has deemed there is something in the background of the individual that would bias them as a juror. Attorneys have an unlimited number of these exemptions, but they must be adequately explained.
Generally in the interview process the judge and attorneys will look for individuals who hold no connection to the case, or particular bias that could influence their impartial decision making.
Where does the interpreter come in with the jury?
While an individual can’t be excused from a jury simply because they cannot speak English fluently or because they are deaf, there are certain times where this would excuse an individual from serving on a jury.
These include if the individual cannot speak English proficiently enough to fill out the Juror Qualification Form sent to the individual when they are summoned for jury duty (unless other language requirements are determined at a state level), or if the court is not able to provide an interpreter due to large costs or rarity of the language needed.
That being said, there are many instances where a member of a jury has required the assistance of a certified court interpreter in order to participate in the full proceedings.
So, if you’re requested to work with a jury member, what can you expect to interpret?
- The instructions to the jury
- The events of the trial for which the juror will be sitting
- The discussions and deliberations held by the jury when determining a verdict
- Any communications the juror may have throughout the course of the trial
What are the challenges faced by a certified court interpreter working for a jury member?
The challenges faced by an interpreter working for a member of the jury are similar to those faced by any court interpreter, and are as follows:
- You must faithfully interpret the entire court proceedings: It is your responsibility as the court interpreter to ensure that you a) explain your role and how it will be performed (aka you will interpret everything anyone says) to the entire group of jurors and those involved in the trial, and b) that you are being diligent and not missing any vital information that might change the juror’s opinion or understanding of the case.
- You must interpret information in as clear and understandable a manner as possible: Not everyone is familiar with the law – regardless if they are hearing, deaf, or if English is their second language. Therefore participating in a jury can sometimes be confusing.
For those requiring a certified court interpreter, the possibility of confusion can be made worse if the interpreter isn’t able to convey the meaning in an understandable manner to the client.
This is particularly important with jury instructions in the beginning – these are the legal rules by which the jury members are bound in performance of their duties. They also outline how juries should look at evidence presented, and how to make a verdict based on what the jury finds to be true. If they are misunderstood down the line a juror may run into confusion or difficulties when deciding their stance for a verdict.
- You must adhere to rules regarding confidentiality: Just like the juror can’t publically or privately discuss the case with anyone, neither can you as you will be privy to sensitive information.
- You must be absolutely neutral about the proceedings and work according to the interpreter code of ethics: Remember it is your client who is making the decision for the trial, not you. As such you must not change the way you interpret based on your own perceptions of the case, nor should you offer your opinion or advice to any of the jury members or other participants in the trial.
While the challenges faced by certified court interpreters working on behalf of jury members are serious, this role is one of the utmost important ones in a court of law. Similar to how a poor interpretation of a convicted individual’s or witness’ statement could land someone in jail, poor interpretation of court proceedings to a member of the jury could do the same.
How do you become a certified court interpreter for juries?
It is preferred that any legal interpreter working on behalf of a jury member has obtained a legal interpreter certification.
Due to the complexity of the legal system, and then the added complexity of communicating information to a decision maker in as clear and faithful a manner as possible, a large amount of training is required in order to interpret well.
That being said, the U.S. federal court also has tiers of interpreters whom they hire. In order to be considered a certified interpreter in the eyes of the federal court, you must pass a legal interpreter certification exam (currently only available in a few languages).
Certified court interpreter training programs will provide those interested in becoming a legal or court interpreter with necessary experience and training to begin working as a professional legal interpreter and to take the federal certification exam.
Language Connections offers a seven week Legal and Court Interpreter Training program in Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Mandarin Chinese, and Haitian Creole. Individuals enrolled in the course will learn about the Massachusetts court system, the U.S. legal system, and various terminology and concepts needed when interpreting in the court room.
When justice hangs in the balance, it is imperative that all members of a jury know the facts needed to make a well informed decision – ensure language barriers don’t inhibit clear, unbiased decision making and begin your legal interpreter training today!
Get the necessary, in person training in order to become a competent professional interpreter. Register now for one of our upcoming Legal and Court Interpreter Training courses in Boston or Springfield, MA.
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