By a MetNews Staff WriterMetropolitan News-Enterprise
Tuesday, June 19, 2001
Providing Non-Certified Court Interpreter Did Not Violate Due Process—C.A.
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A court’s failure to provide a drunk driving suspect with a certified court interpreter, and instead giving him a non-certified interpreter, did not deprive the defendant of due process, the Fifth District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
The right to an interpreter is guaranteed by the state Constitution, and the Legislature has required that Spanish interpreters be certified absent a good-cause showing that use of a non-certified interpreter is warranted.
Judicial Council rules also require certified interpreters for Spanish and seven other languages, although non-certified interpreters are acceptable for rarer languages.
But Justice Steven M. Vartabedian wrote that the trial judge’s failure to follow the law and afford a certified interpreter to Jose Almaraz did not rise to a constitutional violation.
“We do not in any manner denigrate the importance of [the] rule in ensuring both a competent interpreter and an adequate record of that fact,” the justice said.
But he noted that Almaraz did not claim that the non-certified interpreter he used when he pled guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol was not competent.
“Undoubtedly, due process rights my be abridged when a defendant fails to understand a proceeding because no interpreter was provided when such need was earlier established,” the justice said. “Nevertheless, Almaraz has failed to show how the failure to follow [the Judicial Council rule], standing alone, deprived him of the ability to understand the proceedings and violated fundamental fairness.”
Improper procedures in the use of interpreters do not rise to the level of constitutional violations unless they result in prejudice demonstrating the defendant was denied his right to a fair trial, he said.
The ruling is the latest in a long line of fairly recent cases on criminal defendants rights to interpreters.
Certified interpreters pass a series of examination under rules administered by the Judicial Council. But courts continue to use non-certified people for the same task, citing the large need for translation and the relative scarcity of certified people.
But certified interpreters have complained that courts use non-certified people in order to save money.
The Judicial Council has recently implemented a program designed to encourage non-certified interpreters to take, and pass, the language tests.
The case is People v. Superior Court, Almaraz RPI, F037389.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company