English Translation of Foreign-Language Recorded Evidence

Official Translation/ Interpretation Transcript of Recording in a Foreign Language

In today’s multilingual America bilingual individuals are occasionally selected to sit on a jury in civil, or and in criminal cases. In the course of the jury trial attorneys often need to present evidence, which exists in languages other than English. When taped-recorded conversations in a foreign language are part of the evidence, an English translation of the foreign language tape recording – referred to as the official English translation/ interpretation transcript – is provided to the jurors.

But without specific instructions, the jurors, fluent in the foreign language spoken on the recording, are likely to rely on their knowledge of that language, rather than on the official English translation/ interpretation transcript of the recording in that foreign language.

To address this issue, the Supreme Court Committee on Standard Jury Instructions in Criminal Cases proposes a new standard jury instruction 2.11 for use in the criminal cases. This proposal has been submitted to the Florida Supreme Court. If approved, every time the accuracy of translation from a foreign language is an issue in a criminal case trial, the jury will hear the following instruction prior to hearing to tape-recorded conversation in a foreign language:


You are about to listen to a tape recording in [language used]. Each of you has been given a transcript of the recording. The transcripts were provided to you [by the State] [the defendant] so that you could consider the content of the recordings. The transcript is an English translation of the foreign language tape recording. Whether a transcript is an accurate translation, in whole or in part, is for you to decide. In considering whether a transcript accurately describes the meaning of a conversation, you should consider the testimony presented to you regarding how, and by whom, the transcript was made. You may consider the knowledge, training, and experience of the translator, as well as the nature of the conversation and the reasonableness of the translation in light of all the evidence in the case. You should not rely in any way on any knowledge you may have of the language spoken on the recording; your consideration of the transcripts should be based on the evidence introduced in the trial.”

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