Many countries these days have speakers of a variety of different languages as is definitely the case in the United States. This often means those who have limited ability in speaking English will need an interpreter when they need to deal with organizations that need to understand what they are saying, such as hospitals, the police and the courts.
In makes it extremely difficult for those in a courtroom such as the judge and jury to make the right decision when it comes to important court judgments. There have even been documented cases when those with limited or no English due to the difficulty they have with communication have ended up with wrongful convictions
Example of an Arrest Mistake due to Misunderstanding
In January 2008, a Korean American who was a green card holder was arrested by police in the early hours of the morning in Virginia. Because of his poor English he was unable to communicate effectively with the police officers. As a result he was held in a detention centre for 4 days. He was not offered the services of an interpreter throughout this period. Eventually it was found the man was wrongfully arrested and he was released without any charges being laid against him. This sort of thing is a common occurrence in California which has the widest diversity of foreign language speakers.
Linguistic Diversity in the United States
According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau statistics, there are around 350 languages that are spoken throughout the whole country. Out of this number, 150 are the languages spoken by Native Americans while 200 are those spoken by immigrants. Apart from English Spanish tops the list of language speakers. Other common languages spoken are Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese, Filipino which is Tagalog, Arabic, Vietnamese, Korean, French, German and Russian.
There is a great need for language interpreters and in California alone on an annual basis 8 million cases are handled by courts.
The Legal World is Vast and Complex
For a person with limited ability in English navigating legal matters is far more complex than other areas. From the moment a person enters a courtroom everything is found in English. There are often few multilingual signs present.
The U.S. civil rights law, which is designed to prevent discrimination based on an individual’s origin has started to take over in some U.S. states as the federal government was threatening to withdraw funding from any state that didn’t allow its non-English speaking residents equitable access to courts. This basically means that interpreters need to be provided.