For a criminal defendant with limited English proficiency, or who has a hearing impairment, a skilled courtroom interpreter is a vital part of the justice system. Like court-appointed attorneys, interpreters enable defendants to understand proceedings and assist in their own defense. The role of court interpreters is the theme of a newly released Knowledge Seminar video.
The seminar, which includes a panel discussion between two federal judges and two career interpreters, discusses why interpreting is essential to a constitutional process and the challenges courts face in providing skilled interpreters. Court interpreting requires language fluency, interpreting skills, familiarity with technical terms and courtroom procedure, and a knowledge of particular cultures.
The panelists include U.S. District Judge Diane Humetewa, whose court in the District of Arizona includes many immigrants and Native Americans who require interpreters; Judge James Boasberg, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, who described a trial involving deaf defendants; Paula Gold, who oversees the interpreter program for the Southern District of New York; and Javier Soler, interpreter program manager for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
More than 3,600 interpreters are registered in the Judiciary’s National Court Interpreter Database, with expertise in over 180 languages, of which more than 120 are used regularly by courts. Most interpreters work as contractors hired for specific cases. Spanish accounts for roughly 96 percent of all interpreting requests, and around 100 Spanish interpreters are Judiciary employees.