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Deaf Defendant Challenges Interpreter in Court

This case has huge implications for legal interpreters in the U.S. And the verdict came earlier this year right in Maryland.
The case, heard in the Court of Appeals, was about a Deaf criminal defendant’s constitutional right to confront the American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter for his police interrogation if the State uses his interpreted statements as evidence in his criminal case.
And it was serious: the defendant was accused of sexual abuse of seven minors. He was found guilty of abusing two of them. But he disputed the accuracy of his interpreter for the police interrogation.
The result was a fascinating ruling. Essentially the appellate court:
  • Accepted the concept that interpreting is not word-for-word but rather that the interpreter makes statements based on his or her understanding of the message.
  • Found that police interviews needed to be videotaped so the original statements can be preserved.
  • Discovered that English and ASL are two distinct languages.
  • Rather than seeing the interpreter as a “tool,” realized that an interpreter is “the declarant of his or her own statements about what the defendant has said.”

Here’s a concrete example from the ruling. The defendant “testified that he told the interpreters that, if he had touched anyone, it would have been an accident, and he would have apologized.” Yet the interpreter stated that he touched the girls.


Article originally found in INTERSECT weekly update from August 19, 2016.

Related to: ASL, Interpreter/Translator News, Legal Interpreters

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