Until recently, if a non-English speaker ended up in a civil court in California, it was his or her responsibility to find an interpreter. Now, that’s all going to change.
By 2017, the California court system is going to provide interpreters for every non-English speaker who passes through the justice system. Before, interpreters were guaranteed only in criminal cases. For this reason, many non-English speakers were not getting the justice they deserved in civil cases because they were unable to understand their lawyers, the case, or the procedures.
That’s especially important for people who are going through domestic violence restraining order proceedings in a civil court or who are facing civil asset forfeiture proceedings in which the state wants to take property alleged to have been involved with a crime — even when the owner hasn’t been proven to be connected to any criminal activity.
Before making the change, California was one of only 10 states that didn’t guarantee interpreters in all trials. The other states are Alaska, Illinois, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wyoming and Vermont.
Only Professional Court Interpreters Can Adequately translate Court Proceedings
There are approximately 7 million residents in California with limited English proficiency. These people speak around 200 different languages. Thus, it can be difficult to find competent interpreters for every case or even people with a casual understanding of some lesser-spoken tongues. For this reason, the California court system is hiring and training many new interpreters to guarantee that every language is covered.
Many non-English speakers are unable to afford professional interpreters, so they rely on friends, family, and sometimes the opposing party for translation. But only trained interpreters can guarantee the proper translation of court proceedings. Even people who are perfectly bilingual may struggle to convey technical terms and may have trouble keeping up with the fast pace of trial proceedings.
An Extra Strain on an Overstretched Budget
California has the nation’s largest court system, which means it’s also one of the most expensive to run. With many counties sprawling across a vast territory, California’s Department of Justice spends a lot of money to keep its court facilities staffed and running.
Owing to funding difficulties stemming from the greater budget crisis, California’s justice system is in disarray. Dozens of courthouses and hundreds of courtrooms have closed across the state in recent years, affecting the access to justice of an estimated 2 million residents.
There may not be enough money to guarantee court interpreters in all cases, a problem that the new law actually anticipates. Where there is only limited funding available, courts will prioritize the assignment of interpreters for cases involving domestic violence, harassment and elder abuse.
If you need an interpreter or want more information about court interpreters in California, you can learn more by visiting the California courts website: http://www.courts.ca.gov/programs-interpreters.htm
If you’re the subject of domestic violence or harassment proceedings, or are facing civil asset forfeiture, McElfresh Law offers skilled San Diego criminal defense. We can evaluate your situation and discuss options for handling the allegations against you or for protecting your property. Call us at (858) 756-7107 for a free consultation today.