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The legal Ramifications of providing a less than par translation
Thread poster: yolanda Speece
yolanda Speece  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:12
English to Spanish
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Aug 3, 2004

Does anyone know of any cases where court rulings were overturned because the translator or interpreter did not provide an appropriate translation?

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Victor Potapov
Russian Federation
Local time: 01:12
English to Russian
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No, but... Aug 3, 2004

No, but during my court work in Russia I once saw a court interpreter (appointed by the court) being challenged by the defense as not interpreting adequately, missing sentence parts and changing meaning of statements. (all this was true, by the way).

The hearings were adjourned at the point of interpreter's dismissal.

Next day another interpreter was appointed - everything went OK from there.

But that was grossly "less than par", let me assure you.

Best regards,

Victor.


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yolanda Speece  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:12
English to Spanish
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TOPIC STARTER
The only time Aug 4, 2004

I have ever heard of this happening was in the Gregorio Cortez case in Texas around the early 1900's. The interpreter did not know what a "llegua" was and misinterpreted "you can't arrest us. why are you arresting us?" as "no officer can arrest us." This caused a statewide manhunt, the death of Cortez's brother and various Texas Rangers. Does anyone else know of any cases that have wreaked this kind of havoc-maybe not on the same level but resulted in a situation where people were DEFINITELY affected?

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Luis Arri Cibils  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:12
Member (2003)
English to Spanish
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Three examples Aug 4, 2004

Below there are three examples (with pertinent excerpts and references to the website) where interpreting or translation errors had (or could have had) serious consequences at trial. Note this cite (also copied below) from one of the opinions below (the last one):

Perez-Lastor, 208 F.3d at 777-78 (holding
that Perez-Lastor's right to due process at his deportation
hearing was violated "because an incompetent translation pre-
vented him from presenting relevant evidence and caused the
BIA to find his testimony was not credible").

=======================================================

Mistranslation of Miranda Warning Rendered Statements Inadmissible—Ninth Circuit

Bill Torres, the Spanish-speaking officer who accompanied investigators to the room, recited the warnings from a Spanish language Miranda card that read, in part, “En caso de que no tenga dinero, Ud. tiene el derecho de solicitar de la corte un abogado.” The officer testified that this would translate into English as “In case you don’t have enough money or funds, you have the right to solicit the Court for an attorney.”
Senior U.S. District Judge Owen Panner of the District of Oregon denied the motion to suppress the statement, saying the translation was substantially accurate. He also denied Perez’s motion to suppress all evidence obtained in the search, finding that Perez consented.
Perez then entered a conditional guilty plea.
Berzon, writing for the appellate panel, acknowledged case law holding that an “imperfect” translation does not negate the effect of a Miranda warning. But the version that was read to Perez, she said, was not merely imperfect, it was substantially misleading.
What Perez was told, in effect, was that if he wanted an attorney, one would not automatically be appointed, but he would have to go to court and ask for one, Berzon explained.
The judge also noted that Perez has only a third-grade education. In the past, she said, the Ninth Circuit has “underscored that thoroughness and clarity are especially important when communicating with uneducated defendants.”

http://www.metnews.com/articles/pere111003.htm

===============================================================

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

SOGHOMON ABOVIAN; LOUSINE No. 98-70934
ABOVIAN; ISKOUI ABOVIAN, INS Nos.
Petitioners, A70-918-599
v. A70-918-600
A70-955-211
IMMIGRATION AND NATURALIZATION SERVICE,
Respondent.
. . . . . . .

Additionally, the record suggests that the purported "dis-
jointed[ness]" and "incoherence" in Abovian's testimony
" `were possibly the result of mistranslation or miscommuni-
cation' [which is] not a sufficient basis for an adverse credi-
bility finding." Akinmade v. INS, 196 F.3d 951, 956 (9th Cir.
1999) (quoting Vilorio-Lopez, 852 F.2d at 1142). For exam-

13027


ple, at one point the translator admitted to being unable to
translate the words Abovian used to explain what had hap-
pened to him. Cf. Perez-Lastor, 208 F.3d at 777-78 (holding
that Perez-Lastor's right to due process at his deportation
hearing was violated "because an incompetent translation pre-
vented him from presenting relevant evidence and caused the
BIA to find his testimony was not credible").

[7] In sum, the BIA did not give a "legitimate articulable
basis to question the petitioner's credibility" or a "specific,
cogent reason for [the] stated disbelief." Hartooni, 21 F.3d at
342.

http://ilw.com/lawyers/immigdaily/cases/2000,1016-Abovian.shtm

===============================================================

United States Court of Appeals,
Eleventh Circuit.
No. 95-8663.
Terence George KELLY, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Hilda T. SERNA, Robert R. Michelotti, Mona Polen Jerkins, Raleigh J. Lopez, Steven R. Wisebram, Craig A. Gillen, each individually, United States of America, Defendant-Appellees.
July 11, 1996.
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. (No. 1:91-cv-3155-JTC), Jack T. Camp, Judge.
Before KRAVITCH and CARNES, Circuit Judges, and HILL, Senior Circuit Judge.
HILL, Senior Circuit Judge:
Terence G. Kelly, an attorney, represented two defendants charged with drug offenses. During the course of that representation, agents of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) received information that Kelly, himself, was involved in the criminal drug activity. Kelly was indicted by a grand jury, charged and convicted of one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and one count of aiding, abetting, and counseling the possession with intent to distribute cocaine. His conviction was reversed on appeal to this court. United States v. Kelly, 888 F.2d 732 (11th Cir.1989).
. . . . . .
2. Mistranslation of a Spanish Word.
The second allegation of fraud concerns the alleged mistranslation of the Spanish word "eh" in testimony to the grand jury. Kelly alleges that by translating "eh" as "O.K." a deliberately false meaning was conveyed to the grand jury that Kelly was involved in the drug conspiracy. The district court correctly notes, however, that, even if the word was translated incorrectly, the substance of the conversation was not altered. We agree.
http://www.law.emory.edu/11circuit/july96/95-8663.opa.html


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Narasimhan Raghavan  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:42
English to Tamil
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serious effects of a wrong translation Aug 4, 2004

It was 1945 and Japan was on the point of defeat. Truman was ready with the A-bomb. At that time negotiations were on for Japan's unconditional surrender. The Americans had given the Japanese their proposal for the latter's surrender. The Japanese had replied they were considering the proposal and the Japanese word for "considering" was translated into English as "rejecting". Truman dropped the bomb.

The above historical account has been haunting me ever since I read reference to it in The Reader's Digest. My motive in posting this here is because of a fond hope that someone out there would prove that it was wrong and what I heard was nothing but an urban legend. Believe me, I look forward to being proved wrong.

Regards with a heavy heart,
N.Raghavan


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RobinB  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 23:12
German to English
Not a court ruling, but part of a law Aug 4, 2004

Yolanda,

I can't cite a court ruling that was overturned because of a mistranslation, but I do know of a recent case where part of a German law was ruled inadmissible because of a mistranslation.

"On June 23, 2003, the ECJ held in the MKG-Kraftfahrzeug-Factoring-GmbH case that factoring was a business activity subject to VAT. This ruling contradicts the German understanding that regards factoring as tax-exempt and therefore excluding the factor from the right to recover input tax. However, the German provision is based on a mistranslation of the Sixth Directive and is therefore invalid - so the ECJ...."

Full details at: http://shelburne.butterworths.co.uk/taxindirect/dataitem.asp?id=42586&tid=7

Another somewhat related instance that springs to mind was a recent case in the United States where media giant Bertelsmann lost a civil case (and also lost the appeal, I understand) that according to the media reports I read, hinged crucially around the translation of the German word "Beteiligung". Apparently the plaintiffs brought in an American professor of German as an expert witness who pronounced that Beteiligung always means "investment", and did so in this case. The court evidently believed this professor and ruled accordingly, awarding the plaintiffs several hundred million dollars. I must say that I disagree violently with this professor (certainly on the basis of the media reports), and this may be an instance where a case was lost (or won, depending on which way you look at it) because of a mistranslation.

Robin


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Edward Potter  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:12
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
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A-bomb Aug 4, 2004

Narasimhan,

The A-bomb \"mistranslation\" was mentioned in a recent issue of the ATA\'s Chronicle magazine. There is a word in Japanese that can be translated in several different ways.

In any case, if you just suffered one A-bomb attack and your enemy, who hates you to the core, is threatening to do it again, you\'d better respond pretty fast. They didn\'t. We know what happened next.


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yolanda Speece  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:12
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks Aug 4, 2004

I would like to take this moment to thank everyone for all your help in this.

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