Presenting Foreign Language Translated Evidence to the Jury
Whenever a foreign language interpreter is used in a jury trial, it is essential that the jury be instructed on the proper amount of weight to be given to the interpreted foreign-language testimonial evidence. The judge should convey this information to the jury as both pre-trial and post-trial instructions.
Suggested jury instructions include:
- The jury is not to give any weight to the fact a party in the proceedings has limited or no proficiency in English and is therefore receiving the services of a court interpreter.
- Jurors must treat the interpretation of a witness’ testimony as if the witness was speaking English and there was no interpreter present.
- Jurors are not to evaluate the credibility of a witness, either positively or negatively, based on the fact their testimony is being given through a court interpreter.
- Any juror who speaks a witness’ language must only treat what the language interpreter renders as accurate evidence, thus ignoring the actual words of the witness.
Below are example texts of model jury instructions, found at: www.courts.state.va.us/interpreters/guidelines.pdf.
Appendix G: Suggested Statement to Clarify the Interpreter’s Role to the Jury
This court seeks a fair trial for all regardless of the language they speak and regardless of how well they may or may not speak English. Bias against or for persons who have little or no proficiency in English because they do not speak English is not allowed. Therefore, do not allow the fact that the party requires an interpreter to influence you in any way.
Treat the interpretation of the witness’ testimony as if the witness had spoken in English and no interpreter was present. Do not allow the fact that testimony is given in a language other than English to affect your view of [his/her] credibility.
If any of you understand the language of the witness, disregard completely what the witness says in [his/her] language. Consider as evidence only what is provided by the interpreter in English. Even if you think an interpreter has made a mistake, you must ignore it completely and make your deliberations on the basis of the official interpretation.
For information on exercising a peremptory challenge to remove a bilingual juror from the jury panel, read our previous legal blog post “Foreign Language, Equal Protection and Jury Selection”.
Also, check out our blawg post on admitting foreign language translations as documentary evidence, and on translation of foreign language taped-recorded evidence.