Language Interpreter Accused of Giving Legal Advice to Spanish-Speaking Defendants

Today, many attorneys and even judges continue to be unaware of the professional responsibilities of the foreign language court interpreters. Without such awareness, courts will continue to rely on ad hoc interpreters, or on unqualified bilingual persons who are not familiar with the role of the court interpreter. Don’t let sub-par court interpretation by well-meaning amateur interpreters ruin your case! Learn everything you can about the role of professional court interpreters.

Thanks to Nashville Scene we learnt of the troubling allegations against a Spanish court interpreter from Nashville, Tennessee. In his recent Davidson County criminal court filing of the petition for post-conviction relief, Zacarias Quinteros accuses at least one interpreter of playing the part of a lawyer by telling him to plead guilty without Quinteros’ having consulted with his public defender who “sat on a bench in the courtroom while [Quinteros] was advised by the interpreter to plead guilty.” The document “further alleges that the translator never told Quinteros that pleading not guilty was even an option. As a result, Quinteros- who was in court on a charge of driving without a license- pleaded guilty.” The filing states that “approximately 10 Spanish-speaking defendants were also advised to plead guilty by the same interpreter.”
When interviewed about the above allegations of the interpreter’s unprofessional behavior, Laura Dykes, a deputy public defender, stated, “We do have some translators who like to tell people what the law is,” Dykes says. “They think that they’re helping.”

This story, if true, along with the public defender’s statement, illustrates a more serious problem. Namely, that the individuals providing court interpreting services in that courthouse, routinely violate the provisions of Canon 7 of the Model Code of Professional Responsibility for Interpreters in the Judiciary.


Interpreters shall limit themselves to interpreting or translating, and shall not give legal advice, express personal opinions to individuals for whom they are interpreting, or engage in any other activities which may be construed to constitute a service other than interpreting or translating while serving as an interpreter.

There’s no reason for courts anywhere to hire and/ or to continue to employ individuals, who do not strictly abide by the Code of Professional Responsibility for Interpreters in the Judiciary, and remain blissfully unaware of the true role of the court interpreter.

If no qualified foreign language interpreters are available in your area, contact our language translation service to retain professional court interpreters for government debriefings, depositions, hearings, IMEs, settlement conferences, mediation, arbitrations, and trials.

For additional information on qualifying a foreign language interpreter as an expert, read our earlier legal translation blawg post here.

To read our legal translation blog post, “Russian Interpreter’s Incomplete Interpretation Causes a Halted Trial: Why Attorneys Must Learn to Differentiate between Competent Court Interpreters and Unqualified Individuals”, click here.

Also, read our earlier legal translation blog post, “A Bilingual Attorney Serving as the Interpreter- Ethical Considerations“.

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