Foreign Tape Translation, and Admission of Foreign Language Recordings- Standard of Review

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 typically presented at trial.

When an appeal is based on a claim of improper admittance of a foreign language recording during trial, the proper standard of appellate review is for an abuse of discretion.

A recorded conversation is admissible “unless the unintelligible portions are so substantial that the recording as a whole is untrustworthy.” United States v. Tisor, 96 F.3d 370, 376 (9th Cir. 1996).

If this standard is met, there is no abuse of discretion.

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When the recording at issue is a foreign language recording, the appellate court looks for the following:

1. Whether the district court reviewed the transcriptions and translations for accuracy;
2. Whether the defense counsel had the opportunity to highlight alleged inaccuracies and to introduce alternative versions; and,

3. Whether the jury was allowed to compare the transcript to the tape and hear the counsel’s arguments as to the meaning of the conversations.

If all three steps are satisfied, the recording is considered intelligible, accurate and trustworthy and no abuse of discretion will be found.

United States v. Abonce-Barrera, 257 F.3d 959 (9th Cir. 2001).

For information on addressing the need for bilingual jurors to rely on the official English translation/ interpretation transcript of the recording in that foreign language, click on our earlier legal translation blawg post here.

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