Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



A Cuban man was convicted on drug charges for uttering the words above. He used the words in response to a request for a loan and, given the dialect of the speaker and the context of the statement, they can properly be translated as "[m]an, I don't even have ten cents." Instead, the court interpreter mistakenly translated them as, "[m]an, I don't even have ten kilos."' This case demonstrates the influence the court interpreter can have on the outcome of a case. As extraordinary as this situation may appear, however, it is not an isolated incident. Rather, what is unusual about this case is that someone caught the error and that the conviction was overturned. Since no safeguards exist in the judicial system designed to catch mistakes made by court interpreters, most mistakes are never discovered.

Any communication using two languages, sometimes even communication using the same language, may give rise to misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the speaker's intent. No less than any other type of communication, court interpretation is susceptible to this type of misunderstanding and misinterpretation. Court interpretation can be an imprecise process,' and often the result of this imprecision may be an unfair trial for the non-English speaking defendant.