Legal Interpreting Mistakes Can Cost You Your Freedom

A Legal Interpreter Court Certification Could Make the Difference Between Freedom or Life Behind Bars

The main role of the court system is to provide justice for victims of crime. However, when the court can’t understand either the victim or the person on trial, sometimes justice can be handed out unfairly.

In English speaking courts, individuals with Limited English Proficiency are at an extreme disadvantage when it comes to testifying, and explaining their role in a case.

That is unless they have a legal interpreting professional.

However, it is important to note that such a professional should, ideally, obtain a legal interpreter court certification. Until recently, certified legal interpreters were not always provided in courts. At times, untrained, or inexperienced, individuals would be used for the job.

These days, intensive certification tests must be undergone by linguists looking to interpret in state or federal courts. This is due to the fact that legal interpreting mistakes can potentially cost someone his or her freedom.


A Single Mistranslation, or Misunderstanding Can Mean Serious Jail Time

Interpreter Court CertificationIn 2012, a case in Arkansas highlighted the extreme importance of using certified court interpreters. A man, Jose Luis Mendez, was being tried for counts of rape, attempted murder, burglary, and aggravated assault.

An interpreter was used by both the defense and the prosecution when interviewing Mendez about his involvement in the crime, but unfortunately each produced different translations of Mendez’s words. The prosecution’s interpreter translated Mendez’s interview as him admitting to the crimes, while the defense’s interpreter translated it as him not admitting to the crimes.

It is important to distinguish that only the defense’s interpreter was certified by the state of Arkansas.

What was the result?

The decision on which interpretation to use was left up to the jury, and ultimately Mendez was sentenced to 60 years in prison. That is until a higher court reviewed the circumstances regarding the interpreting, and overturned the ruling in favor of a new trial.

The interpreter profession is often still considered a commodity, and certified and uncertified linguists are seen as interchangeable. However, in high profile situations like court cases, this way of thinking can be detrimental to a person’s freedom.

That’s why obtaining an interpreter court certification is being recognized, more and more, as extremely important.

Is a Legal Interpreter Court Certification Really Required?

Court Interpreting CertificationWhile an interpreter court certification is not always required for some lower-level, legal interpreting, in many cases you must be certified in order to work directly for a federal or state court system. Currently, interpreter court certification exams by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts exist only for Spanish, Navajo, and Haitian Creole.

In the event that a legal interpreter is needed in a language where there is no certification exam, the court can choose to employ either a professionally qualified interpreter, or an ad hoc interpreter.

A professionally qualified interpreter will generally have also undergone some level of certification. This will have been done either through the U.S. Department of State conference or seminar interpreter test or the interpreter test of the United Nations.

An individual can also be considered a professionally qualified interpreter if he or she is a member of the Association Internationale des Interprètes de Conférence (AIIC), The American Association of Language Specialists (TAALS), or holds the specialist certificate: legal, as administered by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf.

An ad hoc interpreter is an individual who is able to interpret to the court’s satisfaction. He or she must be fluent in both English and the target language in order to qualify.

It is important to note that, if a certified interpreter is available for a given language, it is likely he or she will be chosen over a professionally qualified, or an ad hoc interpreter.  There are also pay differences between each level, with court certified interpreters and professionally qualified interpreters receiving higher salaries on average.


How to Become a Certified Court Interpreter

Court Interpreter CertificationIn order to be considered a certified court interpreter, you will need to pass the certification exam. The best way to prepare to become a certified legal interpreter is either through earning a bachelor’s degree in linguistics, translation, or a specific language, or through legal interpreter training programs.

A legal interpreter training program will prepare you to take interpreter court certification exams through study of the U.S. legal system, legal interpreter best practices, and the actual practice of interpreting in your language pair.

Language Connections provides 7 week long, legal and court interpreter training programs. Our programs are taught by professional legal interpreters, who are native speakers of the program’s target languages.

Class sizes are small, ensuring that all students receive the maximum, individualized attention they require.

Get the necessary, in person training in order to become a competent professional interpreter. Register now for one of our interpreter training programs: Medical Interpreter Training, Legal Interpreter Training or Community & Business Interpreter Training.

See the course schedule here:  Schedule >>>

Contact us for more information:
Phone:(617) 277-1990


author avatar
Yana Fisher

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