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Non-English Speaking Defendants: What are their Rights?

For most people who have little to no experience in the criminal justice system, it can be frightening to go to court for the first time, whether it be criminal or civil trial. The terminology can be confusing, the procedure strict and seemingly unfair, and you never know the full extent of the consequences of what a judgment might mean for your life and livelihood. Now imagine if English was not your first language and you were attempting to understand not just the procedure, but the simplest of questions regarding your case.

Fundamental Right for Non-English Speaking Defendants

Only within the last few years, the criminal justice system has attempted to make strides in ensuring that all defendants, English-speaking or not, are able to understand the court proceedings that are happening. However, it has only been since 2006 that Florida courts ruled that just being physically present in a court room was not enough; non-English speakers’ rights were being violated since they were not able to participate in their own defense. This type of violation was seen as a discrimination against national origin. Post-2006, courts required that certified interpreters be present in criminal cases to help defendants who may be deprived of their fundamental right to life and liberty.

Deficit of Interpreters in Court System

However, qualified and certified interpreters available for non-English speakers are still lacking within the court system. Only in court proceedings where a fundamental right is a stake will an interpreter be required for a non-English speaking defendant; for all other cases, however, these non-English speaking parties must find their own translators who generally cost more than $75 per hour. With such a high cost associated with translators, many bring in relatives and friends to help within their proceeding. These non-qualified translators create further issues as many times they may not understand legal lingo and their translations may be too vague to provide an entire picture of the proceedings.

Deficit of Interpreters is also a Problem for English-Speakers

The lack of interpreters is a significant problem especially in the United States where the non-English speaking populations are growing considerably. In Florida, 27 percent of adults speak another language at home. The lack of interpreters is largely because of the cost, lack of funding, and because of the standards that are set in place are vague. This problem affects not only the non-English speaking community but the English-speaking community as well due to the increased costs associated with appeals and the clogging of the court system attempting to address issues associated with incorrect interpreting.

Proposed Amendments by the Court Interpreter Certification Board

Recently, the Court Interpreter Certification Board filed a petition to the court to attempt to amend the rules currently governing interpretation for non-English speakers. The current guidelines provide that interpreters may be either a “certified” interpreter or a “duly qualified” interpreter, reflecting two levels of expertise. The issue with the current guidelines are that there are a deficit of “certified” interpreters because “duly qualified” is a level that is appealing to many because it requires less education and is subject to a less rigorous standard. The amendments would modify these levels into three different types of interpreters, reflecting more correctly the expertise level and the associated standards and education required.

Criminal Defense Attorney in Fort Lauderdale

Being physically and mentally present at a court proceeding is a constitutional right for all. Being provided with an interpreter is just one way to level the playing field in the criminal justice system and ensure that a defendant fully understands the proceedings and is given the best opportunity to defend himself in court. It is also important that a defendant have an experienced criminal defense attorney like Kevin J. Kulik who will help him/her understand the intricacies and complexities of the legal system. Call Kevin J. Kulik in Fort Lauderdale today for a free and confidential consultation of your case.

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