Confronting the Interpreter
An interesting question concerning forensic linguistics is making its way through the appellate courts: When the police use an interpreter during an interview (or interrogation) of a suspect who later becomes a defendant in a prosecution, and the defendant’s words in her original language are not recorded, does the defendant have a constitutional right to confront the interpreter? As a cost-saving measure, more and more law enforcement agencies, and some courts, have been retaining services that interpret the interview over the telephone. One of them, Language Line Solutions. http://www.languageline.com/, has found itself in the middle of this constitutional question.repeats.
...In United States v. Aifang Ye (No. 12-10576 (9th Cir. 2015)), the Ninth Circuit ruled that there is no right to confront the interpreter under the Sixth Amendment standards set out in Crawford, since the interpreter’s statements are not testimonial – rather, they are merely a conduit from one language to another. Ye was convicted of aiding and abetting in providing false information for a passport application. Some of the evidence against her came from what she said in an interview conducted by an agent of the Department of Homeland Security. Questions were asked in English, answered in Mandarin Chinese, and interpreted over the phone by Language Line, an agent of the U.S. immigration service. The interpreter then reduced the interview to a written statement. Ye claimed that there was a mistranslation because she never would have said that there had been a forgery, a word used by the interpreter.
However Ms. Ye’s case is resolved, courts should be more realistic in their understanding of what interpreters and translators can do. First, courts should stop relying on the “conduit” theory of translation. Compare two reputable translations of any work of literature. They will be similar in some ways, different in others. To the extent that word choice matters in the context of a criminal prosecution, nuanced differences may affect a case’s outcome. Second, interpreters make errors. The legal system should recognize this. Third, courts should not accept as accurate representations that the entire professional staff of a private firm retained by the government is dispassionate and of high professional character. Surely the defendant need not accept such representations.
Leiter: Reality is relative to language?
Kieran Healy: Fuck Nuance