Court leaders look at translation service

LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Michigan's court system is studying whether to implement certification standards for translators, an effort to address criticisms that help for those who aren't fluent in English is uneven and sometimes violates suspects' constitutional rights.

A report from the State Bar of Michigan issued in June 2010 concluded translation services are underfunded and "inconsistently applied across courts, in many cases in violation of constitutional and federal requirements."

Court administrators are now considering whether to develop policies, training levels and continuing education requirements, are studying how much money courts spend for interpreters, and are looking for resources to find interpreters and ways to make changes in tough budget times.

Ionia-Montcalm counties Circuit Judge Suzanne Hoseth Kreeger is heading a state courts committee working on the issue.

"I think that this is really an important time to review policies and procedures and do the very best we can in terms of balancing our ability to provide interpreters," Kreeger told the Detroit Free Press. "Justice cannot be completed if we don't understand."

Lawyer Neil Rockind is currently representing a Jordanian man who speaks Arabic and little English on a drunken-driving charge. He said his client wasn't advised of his rights in a language he understands.

"Every stage of the legal process, from the time police stop a person to the time they walk out of the courthouse, is important," Rockind said.

Rockind said the officer who stopped his client noticed a language barrier but didn't ask for an interpreter or contact a colleague who spoke Arabic. The officer read his client preliminary and chemical breath test rights, but an interpreter wasn't brought in until the booking process.

"If the system is willing to arrest people, to prosecute them and convict them of misdemeanors and felonies and incarcerate them ... at a minimum, people should understand what is being said to them at all times," Rockind said.

Defense lawyer Carl Marlinga, a former Macomb County prosecutor, said a big decision for attorneys is whether to allow a limited-English-speaking client to testify.

The client could give an unintended admission because of not understanding the question. But "it doesn't create a great impression in front of the jury" if an interpreter is used, he said, "especially if the person knows some English."

Published: Tue, Mar 1, 2011


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