Court Interpreters in the U.S. - Do you interpret recordings during a trial?
Thread poster: Eng2Span

Eng2Span  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:47
English to Spanish
+ ...
May 21, 2010

Hello fellow interpreters,

Say you have a LEP defendant in a trial that you are interpreting the proceedings for... simultaneous mode... interpret every single thing being said... etc, etc... then... in the process of examining a witness they publish a video made by a law enforcement officer walking through a location and narrating (in English of course) what he is seeing, again, with the purpose of asking the witness questions about said recording.

What do you do?

I can't put a finger on why, but in a trial I usually do not interpret exhibits (a decision not made arbitrarily, I let the judge and attorneys know), only statements made in court. Now, at times, the judge might ask me to sight translate a document in either direction, and that's fine, but for audio/video being played to the jury I simply do not. Here are some reasons I can think of as to why not, but am wondering if I should change my practice...

1) Audio is oftentimes not good enough to interpret accurately.

2) When a problem arises, I can't ask the recording to slow down, speak up, clarify an ambiguity (this is not common when live people are speaking in court either, but the audio is much better in person too so the likelihood of needing to do so is much greater with a recording).

3) The recording being played is an exhibit, so presumably it was already given to the attorneys well before the trial for them to review. Which means this should have already been transcribed and translated for them if it's important. Another way to look at it: if in the course of the trial a WRITTEN document is shown on a large screen for the attorney to ask the witness questions of certain parts of it, we are not expected to sight translate the entire thing (i.e. the non-referenced parts) to the defendant either, the person will simply not understand the portions that are not spoken of in person during the trial even though everyone else in the courtroom looking at the document can (if they know English), so why should an audio recording be any different?

4) [My main point of contention, and the one usually used by judges to grant my request to not interpret the recordings] While recordings are being played back it is extremely common for the attorney to ask questions on-the-fly... "and what is this we see here" ... "why did you ask him for his ID at this point?", etc. In these situations, the defendant would be hearing gibberish from us as we switch from interpreting the exhibit to interpreting the testimony.


I just dunno... I don't frown on interpreting these to be mean or out of laziness nor anything of the sort, I just want to make sure I always do what's best for the judicial process... so should I be making an effort to interpret whatever I can of the recording regardless, and only stopping when one of the items above comes into play (except #3, which is always going to be relevant), or continue as I have been?


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Court Interpreters in the U.S. - Do you interpret recordings during a trial?

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