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are required for LEP individuals in many Federal and State Court
proceedings. Courts have found in both criminal and civil
cases a denial of interpreters to LEP individuals is a deprivation
of due process rights. In New York State, interpreters are required
in all state civil and criminal cases for LEP individuals.
In criminal cases Federal and State courts have found that while “there is no specific State or Federal Constitutional provision governing the right to have interpretive services furnished in a court...legislative bodies have long recognized the need for such services to ensure meaningful participation." United States ex rel. Negron v. New York, 434 F.2d 386 (2d Cir.1970). (Word)
When a defendant lacks the ability to speak or understand English, an interpreter can be essential for ensuring a fair trial. A defendant “deserve[s] more than to sit in total incomprehension as the trial proceed[s]. Particularly inappropriate in this nation where many languages are spoken is a callousness to the crippling language handicap of a newcomer to its shores ....” United States ex rel. Negron at 390.
New York State Requirements
New York Uniform Rule 217
In October 2007, the New York Uniform Rules for state courts were amended to require criminal and civil trial courts to provide interpreter services for individuals with limited English proficiency.
These amendments describe the obligation of all trial courts in New York to appoint interpreters when a party or guardian or a minor in a Family Court proceeding is limited English proficient (LEP) and an interpreter is needed to ensure their meaningful participation in the court proceeding.
An LEP individual may waive the court appointed interpreter if they provide their own interpreter. Interpreting services are also to be provided to LEP individuals at the court clerk offices. The complete text is available here (PDF) and in the State Court Resources below.
Interpreter Benchcard for Judges
The requirement that interpreters are provided to LEP individuals in all civil and criminal cases was also explained in the Interpreter Benchcard for Judges included in the 2008 edition of the New York State Unified Court System’s Court Interpreter’s Manual and Code of Ethics available here (PDF).
New York Judiciary Law
In New York, Judiciary Law § 386 provides for the appointment and compensation of court interpreters. Judiciary law § 387 allows for the temporary appointment if any interpreter required in any State court.
A court should take affirmative steps to determine the need of an interpreter only “when it becomes acutely obvious that the defendant is exhibiting an inability to understand the trial proceedings or to communicate with his counsel due to a language barrier." Yellen v. Baez, 177 Misc.2d 332, 336 (Richmond. Cty, S.Ct. 1997)
New York state civil courts have recognized that requiring an individual to proceed, when it is obvious that an interpreter is needed, would violation due process of law as interpreters are necessary to ensure meaningful participation. Since “language is the principal basis of communication in a trial or hearing, a litigant's ability to understand and communicate that language is critical to the proceeding's fairness." Lizotte v. Johnson, 4 Misc.3d 334,342, citing Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254, 268-9 (1970).
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Last Updated: September 24, 2009 ● Empire Justice Center © 2009