The Essence of Due Process Is to Be Heard

By guest writer, Lauren Levin


Federal law (Title VI of the Civil Rights Act) prohibits discrimination based on race, color, sex, disability, religion, familial status, and national origin.  In the leading case of Ledesma v Court of Appeals, the US Supreme Court stated, “the essence of due process is simply to be heard.”  


In Georgia, non-English speaking persons involved in the court process can contact the Georgia Commission on Interpreters (“the Commission”) for assistance with locating competent professional interpreters in civil and criminal matters.  Created in 2003 by Georgia Supreme Court order, the Commission regulates the statewide comprehensive court interpreter program by: (a) developing the criteria for the training and certification of interpreters, (b) designating the languages for which certification is required and (c) establishing standards of conduct for interpreters.  The Commission is composed of judges, lawyers, non-lawyers, legislators, court administrators, and interpreters and is staffed by John Botero, Program Manager, Office of Court Professionals.


In a recent interview, Mr. Botero highlighted “the need for courts to use professional interpreters rather than untrained individuals who work in a nearby restaurant or store and happen to speak the language.”  He stated, “the Commission provides an on-line registry of 174 interpreters who speak over thirty languages to assist the public and members of the Bench and Bar in locating qualified court interpreters throughout the state.   The responsibility for providing professional interpreters should lie with the courts.   The use of professional interpreters decreases the likelihood of appeal based on an ineffective interpreter.”


Philippe DumoulinOne such registered professional interpreter is Philippe Dumoulin (in photo, left, next to client) who assists Haitian Creole speakers understand complex English legalese. This past year, he has “handled fifteen to twenty cases primarily involving family and criminal court matters.  The family issues involve mainly divorce or custody cases as well as termination of parental rights and visitation.” 


Mr. Dumoulin echoes Mr. Botero’s concern regarding the need for the Bench and Bar to use interpreters registered with the Commission.   He emphasized that “you can be sure an interpreter who has passed the exam and becomes certified knows what s/he is doing.  A non-registered interpreter may only be able to interpret sequentially rather than simultaneously.”  Mr. Dumoulin is concerned that “some courts try to save money by using agencies rather than registered translators.”   In one interesting case, Mr. Dumoulin was required to research words in advance used in expert testimony to describe Voodoo rituals.  He wound up “interpreting for two defendants and the victim, none of whom spoke English.”


Regarding the use of technology for interpreters, the Commission did have a pilot program for remote interpreting that was completed.  Mr. Botero cited Fulton County’s use of video interpreting but said it was “not directly related to the Commission.”  Nor does the Commission use any of the current technology advances to automatically translate language such as the Google Pixel Buds.  With the Google Translate software built right in, the Pixel Buds claim to translate languages just as if they are spoken in the native tongue.   Currently, the Pixel Buds convert text in any of roughly 100 languages into text in any of the others.  With a pair of earbuds selling for $159, should professional interpreters be worried?


Mr. Botero explained that Pixel Buds may be helpful for vacationers, but technology can only go so far in protecting due process and constitutional rights.  The new technology at this time can only translate the basic words that are said, without translating the meaning of idioms, the context generally, or the precise meaning of relevant legal terms. A professional interpreter can respond in real time when it becomes clear that a non-English speaking party speaks a unique dialect, or isn’t understanding the legal jargon being used. Professional interpreters are also bound by a strict ethical code, and can inform the court if there is any issue with a non-English speaker’s ability to understand the proceedings. Pixel Buds lack the ability to assist many criminal defendants and civil litigants with limited English skills navigate the complex legal systems, jeopardizing constitutional rights.

At this moment in time, translation and interpretation are essential to providing meaningful access to the courts and to maintaining the integrity of our justice system. 



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