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CA Courts Face Interpreter Shortage

By William Vogeler, Esq. on September 08, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

An interpreter told the defendant that he was accused of a 'violacion,' which did not exactly mean 'violation' in Spanish.

"No he viole a nadie!" the distressed defendant exclaimed.

It was a disconcerting moment for the man, who was actually charged with a traffic violation. It also troubled the judge, who learned that "violacion" meant "rape."

Unfortunately, court interpreters are not always competent. What's worse, there are not enough interpreters -- especially in California where people speak more than 220 different languages.

California del Sur

Before Mexico surrendered California to the United States, Spanish was the official language. After 150 years of immigration, almost half of California residents speak a language other than English.

It's a big problem for the court system, the largest in the country. According to the Los Angeles Times, the courts can't get enough qualified interpreters to do justice.

"The goal is to get interpreters available in all case types," said Justice Terence L. Bruiniers of the First District Court of Appeal. "But the reality is we are never going to have enough qualified interpreters in enough languages for every courtroom that needs them at the time they need them. That is just not going to be possible."

In places like Santa Ana, more than half the residents speak Spanish. Without enough interpreters, they have little chance of a speedy resolution of their cases.

California del Norte

In Northern California, a Spanish-speaking immigrant found himself on the brink of deportation. He didn't speak English well and couldn't complete paperwork in time for a hearing.

"What can I do?" he told the judge. "I don't know how to read. I don't know how to write. I couldn't fill it out."

It's a typical case and repeated virtually everyday throughout the country. It's not just a language problem; it's a legal problem.

"It's an absolutely bewildering process," said Raha Jorjani, a public defender in Alameda County. "We're talking about some of the most complicated laws in the nation."

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