Use of Interpreters for Language-Disabled Persons Involved in Federal, State, and Local Judicial Proceedings

GGD-77-68: Published: Sep 16, 1977. Publicly Released: Sep 16, 1977.

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Judicial proceedings conducted in English must be interpreted for people who do not understand the language or who are deaf or deaf-mute to protect their rights. Court officials generally believe defendants' rights are protected adequately under existing laws and in judicial proceedings, although steps taken by the courts to meet the needs of these people vary considerably. Enough data were not available to determine whether there is a serious problem with interpretive services.

Efforts may be needed to develop a certification program or other procedure requiring that interpreters, especially in trials involving serious criminal offenses, demonstrate a minimum level of competence and to develop uniform criteria for determining when an interpreter should be provided. Currently, 49 states have statutory provisions pertaining to court interpreters. The scope of these statutes varies widely from state to state. Some state statutes apparently limit court interpreters to translating the testimony of witnesses, indicating that an interpreter's primary function is to serve the court. Few courts visited maintained records or other data showing the number of requests for interpreters or the number of times interpreters were used. Most court officials interviewed believed that defendants needing interpreter services were provided them. Courts visited had no uniform criteria or guidelines for determining when an interpreter should be provided.

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