In April, ATA joined forces with the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Jersey to draft an amicus brief in an urgent matter related to language access and the use of remote interpreting in a high-stakes jury trial.
The case (The State v. Juracan-Juracan) involves a criminal prosecution against a defendant who speaks Kaqchikel, a rare Indigenous Mayan language originating in what is now Guatemala. The trial court was unable to find a Kaqchikel–English interpreter and needed to resort to relay interpreting with a Spanish–English interpreter and a Kaqchikel–Spanish interpreter. Even though the Kaqchikel–Spanish interpreter told the judge that they could not adequately interpret remotely, the judge decided to order remote interpreting for the upcoming trial. The defendant appealed that ruling, arguing that the lack of in-person interpreting violated his right to participate effectively in his own defense. After the appellate court upheld the decision, the matter went before the New Jersey Supreme Court.
The brief, filed with the New Jersey Supreme Court on April 28, 2023, compiled the collective expertise of professional interpreters and highlighted issues that are critically important to ensuring the rights of limited-English-proficient (LEP) defendants in criminal trials and to professional interpreters’ ability to meet professional standards and codes of ethics.
Oral arguments were presented on June 1, 2023, and a replay of those arguments may be viewed here. The ACLU, on behalf of ATA and NAJIT, argued that remote interpreting in a criminal trial would undermine the accuracy and completeness of the interpreting, create serious ethical risks for the interpreters, and ultimately impair the courts’ ability to recruit interpreters. The ACLU urged the court to defer to the interpreter’s professional judgment as to whether a proposed plan for interpreting services permits them to meet their professional standards. It also advocated for a per-se rule in favor of in-person interpreting in line with defense counsel.
The Supreme Court issued its decision on August 15, 2023, which can be read here.
On August 21, 2023, NAJIT issued an analysis of the decision, highlighting that there should be a presumption of in-person interpreting services for criminal jury trials. The high court also laid out new guidelines for when courts should use in-person interpreters, taking into consideration factors like the complexity of the trial and whether the defendant plans to testify. We consider this a victory for meaningful language access. ATA’s Advocacy Committee is proud to have been able to lend our collective expertise on language access and interpreting to this important effort.
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