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Interpreting Services in American Criminal Courts: A Violation of the Due Process Clause?

NCJ Number
Carlos A. Astiz
Date Published
44 pages
This study identified the major issues in bridging the language barrier in criminal proceedings in specific sites.
Certain issues appeared in every site, with most having to do with the nature of interpreting and the meaning of expressions such as "qualified interpreter" and "quality of interpretation." A primary point made by criminal justice system administrators as well as by attorneys and interpreters in sites throughout the country is that there is no ready-made system for identifying qualified interpreters. In the United States, there is no pool of individuals identified in an authoritative manner as competent interpreters. The absence of such a pool, however, does not necessarily mean that no guidance is available in the selection of interpreters for criminal justice work. There is no shortage in most cities of agencies that offer to provide interpreting and translation services, although there is no quality-control mechanism that supervises their performance. The interpreters and criminal justice system administrators interviewed for this study did not draw from the interpreters available in international organizations and in certain Federal Government agencies. This paper argues that fair criminal justice system proceedings require, in the case of non-English-speaking individuals, that the language barrier be accurately bridged and that the situation be as similar as possible to that faced by the same individual but without the linguistic disability. Only under such circumstances can the proceedings comply with due process requirements. 32 references