July 28, 2007

Court interpreters increasingly needed

The proliferation of languages spoken in the United States has created a new and costly challenge for courts: How to provide an interpreter to each criminal defendant who claims to need one.

The challenge is garnering headlines with the dismissal of charges against a Liberian man accused of raping a 7-year-old relative. A court-appointed psychiatrist recommended that the defendant, Mahamu Kanneh, be given an interpreter. But his native language is Vai, which is spoken by only about 100,000 people in West Africa.

One interpreter tearfully left the courtroom because “she found the facts of the case disturbing,” according to a Washington Post story on the case, and a second was “rejected for faulty work.” The case was finally dismissed because a replacement could not be found in time to provide Kanneh with a speedy trial. The prosecutor's office in Montgomery County, Maryland, is appealing the dismissal.

Court interpreters and linguists say the case demonstrates the need for a national database of interpreters.

The full story is in the July 22 Washington Post.