What to Do about an Incompetent Interpreter


A witness who would otherwise be incompetent because he or she can’t understand or speak English can be made effectively competent by using an interpreter. But what happens when the interpreter is accused of being incompetent?

Dealing with the issue of the competence of an interpreter or translator is much simpler if trial hasn’t started yet. It’s a good idea to ask the court to permit a brief supplemental examination before deciding whether to appoint the interpreter. See Cal Rules of Ct, Standards of J Admin 2.11(b)(3). Interpreters may be somewhat suspect if they haven’t filed an oath with the clerk showing their certification under the Government Code. See Evid C §751(d).

If you believe that a prospective interpreter or translator lacks the necessary competency or qualifications, be proactive and object to the appointment before the interpreter is permitted to act. People v Aranda (1986) 186 CA3d 230, 237.

If an interpreter’s competence becomes an issue after he or she begins interpreting, object as soon as the issue arises. If a party questions the interpreter’s qualifications, the court may hold an Evid C §402 preliminary fact hearing to determine whether the testimony may be admitted.

In the following short video clip, Judge Vernon Nakahara describes a somewhat humorous episode involving interpreter competency that occurred in his courtroom.

View the entire program with much more practical advice and anecdotes in CEB’s Handling Trial Objections, available On Demand. And learn more about dealing with incompetent witnesses of all types in CEB’s California Trial Objections, chapter 18.

© The Regents of the University of California, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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