Language Translation and Court Interpreting Issues- Standards of Review when Challenging Ability to Communicate with Court

A non-English-speaking defendant’s inability to communicate with the court can lead to an appeal related to foreign language translation and court interpreting issues. As the majority of jurisdictions mandate that a foreign language speaker be able to use a foreign language court interpreter in order to communicate with – and understand – the court, an appeal will be based on some issue related to the lack of or adequacy of the foreign language translation.

The determining factor in deciding which of the two standards of review is applicable is whether or not an objection to the language interpretation was made at trial. If a timely and specific objection was made and is noted in the record, the courts will use an abuse of discretion standard. On the other hand, if an error is not objected to at trial, an appeal may still be sought using the plain error standard.

See Virginia Benmaman, Interpreter Issues on Appeal, Proteus: Newsletter of the Nat’l Ass’n of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators, Fall 2000, and State v. Santiago Calderon, 13 P.3d 871, 876 (Kan. 2000).

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