Interpreter Errors Lead to Mistrial
Thread poster: LegalTransform

LegalTransform  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:01
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Jan 15, 2006

Complete story:

Excerpt: "...Unable to speak English, Juan Ramon Alfonzo stood before a judge and expected to receive probation for stealing a toolbox.

To his surprise, the judge sentenced him to 15 years in prison, followed by 15 years of probation, for stealing a dump truck valued at $125,000.

Now, court officials agree Alfonzo entered the wrong plea because his court-hired interpreter, Marianne Verruno, provided an incomprehensible translation....

"Ms. Verruno is far from being fluent in Spanish," an expert interpreter wrote in a report to the judge. "She may be conversant enough for social situations but her Spanish is not minimally adequate to interpret in a court of law..."


"...1.) Judge: We have microphones, and this is all being recorded so that we have a record of this proceeding. In case, you - this is a case number 04-37-34473 - and you are charged with principal to grand theft with damage over $1,000, and/or grand theft over $100,000, and driving while license cancelled, suspended or revoked. Do you understand those are the charges?

2.) Verruno, the court interpreter: Tenemos microfonos de que todo esta grabando para que tenemos acta en lo que de todo lo que hay, fue dicho. En el caso de ce, en el caso numero 0434473, y usted esta acusado de gro, robro robo grande, principal de mas de $1,000 dolares. Y manejando mientras que la licencia fue suspendida o revocado. Uste me entiende . . .

3.) Marty, the expert, who interpretted Verruno's translation: We have microphones of the all is recording so that we may have record meanwhile of the everything of the is, was said. In this case of ce, in the case number 0434473, and you are accused of gro, robro big robbery, main, of more than $1,000 and/or big robbery more than $100,000. And being driving while license was suspended or revoked. Do you understand me . . . ?

1.) Prosecutor Peter McGlashan: That's difficult to hear, Your Honor. This is a co-defendant to the dump truck ring, where this dump truck was retrieved or recovered. The victims are here; Mr. and Mrs. Linsley. And in this case, I guess, there's some damage and restitution owed. And as we had a previous discussion at the arraignment of this case, they feel strongly about it, although there's no direct link between - I have no evidence connecting the two thefts. But they would like to address the court.

2.) Verruno, the court interpreter: Si su Senoria, de que eso es un, un pensa de camioneta peque -de que lo recogieron y las victimas estan prezente y . . . Sr. y Sra. Stansleyy el caso de que hay danos y de que y, tiene que pagar. Y de que como hemos hablado antes . . . ellos se sienten muy fuerte de eso, de que se sienta de que han . . . un conexion aunque no hay evidencia, eh, de los, ah, robos, pero si ellos quieren hablar a la par de . . .

3.) Marty, the expert, who interpretted Verruno's translation: Your Honor of the that is a, a "pensa" of a pickup small - of that they picked it up and the victims are here present and . . . Mr. and Mrs. Stansley and the case of that there are damages and of the and, you have to pay. And of the as we have talked about before . . . they feel themselves very strong of that, of the he feels of that they have - a conexion even though there is no evidence, um, of the, ah, robberies, but if they want to speak along with . . .

[Edited at 2006-01-15 21:07]

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teju  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:01
English to Spanish
+ ...
Thanks for the link Jan 16, 2006

Thank you for posting the link to this article. It gave me chills to read it. Clearly, the interpreter was out of her league.
Several things came to mind, first of all, how is it that a state like Florida, with such a large hispanic population, does not require court interpreters to be certified?
Also, how is it that this person was able to interpret in court for nine years before someone figured out that she wasn't qualified? Who knows how many other cases were full of interpretation errors.
This is one of the reasons why certification is a must. The mistakes that a court interpreter can make can have very serious consequences, and what's worse, they may go unnoticed.
By the way, did you notice that on the first example of Verruno's interpretation, she said something about damages of up to $1,000 and in the expert's interpretation of Verruno's utterance, she said something different? She said "$1,000 and/or big robbery more than $100,000. How could that have happened? Did the expert make a mistake too? Who checks the expert?
In New Mexico, the courts must try first to hire a certified court interpreter. Only when one is not available, are they allowed to hire what's called a "qualifed" interpreter. What qualifed means, is debatable, it's too broad a definition. But the system works well most of the time, and when a certified interpreter is not available, the court is notified that they are dealing with a qualifed interpreter. They can then choose to reschedule the case, if they think that the person's experience or qualifications are not sufficient.
The intepreting profession is still in its infancy, there is so much that needs to be improved. And that includes the standardization of the requirements for court interpreters in all states, among other things.
I think the only honorable thing to do at times is to admit when one is over one's head. Oftentimes the interpretation of the testimony of an expert witness can be very challenging, particularly if the interpreter was not told in advance about the subject matter. That's when the only sensible thing left to do is recuse yourself, and let a more experienced colleague handle the matter. Your reputation is everything.

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