Due Process comes at a price. According to Patrick Fox, in a recent article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, it is expensive to provide interpreters for non-English-speaking defendants. In 2009, Gwinnett County paid $539,803 to provide interpreters. With a more diverse population comes an increased need for interpreters. Judge Davis of the Superior Court of Gwinnett County, estimates that interpreters have been provided in over 42 languages in 2009.
The Rosetta Stone Comment
Of course, it appears that the Constitution of the United States is being lost in translation to those responsible for funding court systems. One city council member said that he wishes that he had gotten the Rosetta Stone software because he believes the court interpreting is a “sweet gig.” Being a certified court interpreter is hard work, requiring proficiency in two languages, knowledge of the court system, and the ability to multi-task in a challenging often high stress environment. Buying some software from a kiosk at the mall probably won’t make you a certified court interpreter, but it might get you “close enough for government work” in some Georgia Courts, even if you are the arresting officer, a probation officer, or a co-defendant.
An Interpreter Should be Objective
The hits in this article just keep on coming. According to Mr. Fox, court personnel are turning to non-certified court interpreters in an effort to save cost. In one local court, it is not unusual for the court to turn to Spanish speaking court personnel to stand in his interpreters.
From my personal experience in Court, I have seen some very in appropriate people serving as interpreters for defendants, including probation officers, co-defendants, the arresting officer, the co-defendant’s interpreter, and court personnel.
An Important Pending Case
I become more acutely aware of interpreter issues since I became counsel for Annie Ling. Mrs. Ling sits in prison after she went through trial on a serious felony where she understood nobody.
Trial counsel unilaterally waived her right to an interpreter, reasoning that “jurors hate immigrants.” He also believed that an interpreter would just slow things down.
Mrs. Ling turned down an offer before trial because she never knew that the trial was optional.
The Article and Due Process
Due process is not cheap. It seems odd that a newspaper article would hone in on one particular component of the court system and dissect the hight cost of that one component. For instance, why not hone in on court reporters and how much they cost? Or the judge? Or the prosecutor? Georgians are already pretty squeamish about funding defense attorneys for the indigent, so I won’t use that example.
The budgetary analysis begs the whole “they came here, so they need to just speak English” tea party stuff.
However, we are bound by Constitution that gives people the right to due process, and the process includes the right to see, hear, and cross-examine witnesses who are called by the state against a person. Due process includes the right to understand the nature of the proceedings in the charge against the person.
If those things are simply too expensive involving cases with non-English-speaking defendants, there is a simple solution. Just don’t file criminal charges against non-English speaking defendants if we cannot afford a real trial.
The Georgia Commission on Interpreters had promulgated a set of rules for the standardization of court interpreters. People like Rosetta Stone dude just don’t know about them. Hopefully, the Ling case will result in some binding rules on our court systems.