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People Forced to Appear in Court Without Interpreters, Violating Federal Law

A new study of 35 states exposes the failure of many state courts to provide interpreters to people with limited proficiency in English (LEP) – often in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of the United States . . .

July 4, 2009
For a PDF of the Press Release, click here.
For Imme­di­ate Release: July 4, 2009
Contact: Susan Lehman, 212–998–6318
               Laura Abel, 212–998–6737

Study Exposes Fail­ure of Many States to Provide Inter­pret­ers in Civil Cases
Senator Kohl Intro­duces State Court Inter­preter Grant Program Act

New York—A new study of 35 states exposes the fail­ure of many state courts to provide inter­pret­ers to people with limited profi­ciency in English (LEP) – often in viol­a­tion of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of the United States.

Language Access in State Courts, which selec­ted states with the highest propor­tion of people with LEP, shows that when state courts fail to provide compet­ent inter­pret­ers to people with LEP in civil cases,  the costs are high. Famil­ies trying to hold on to their homes or trying to obtain hard-earned wages lose out and courts can’t make accur­ate find­ings.

“The human toll is tragic,” says Laura Abel, author of the report and Deputy Director of the Bren­nan Center’s Access to Justice Program.  “Chil­dren are forced to inter­pret for their parents in sens­it­ive divorce and child custody cases.  People leave court without know­ing what happened, and can’t comply with court orders.  Judges don’t know what witnesses are saying.”

The release of Language Access in State Courts coin­cides with the intro­duc­tion of the State Court Inter­preter Grant Program Act by Senator Kohl (D-WI). The new legis­la­tion would author­ize $15 million per year, for three years, to enable state courts to improve their inter­preter programs.

The Depart­ment of Justice has also renewed its commit­ment to enforce inter­preter require­ments in the state courts.  Just this past Febru­ary, DOJ warned the Indi­ana Supreme Court that court systems receiv­ing federal funds viol­ate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of the United States if they charge money for inter­pret­ers.  The report provides guidelines for advoc­ates, legis­lat­ors and judges to adopt best prac­tices and to bring their states into compli­ance with Title VI. 

Under Title VI, state and county courts receiv­ing federal funds must provide inter­pret­ers to indi­vidu­als who need such help to under­stand court proceed­ings.  Most court systems receive such fund­ing and are covered by the law. 

Yet the states’ viol­a­tions are open and wide­spread. Among the report’s find­ings:

  • 46% of the state courts fail to require that inter­pret­ers be provided in all civil cases;
  • 80% fail to guar­an­tee that people need­ing the inter­pret­a­tion are not unlaw­fully charged  for the inter­pret­ers; and
  • 37% fail to require inter­pret­ers to be creden­tialed. 

Language Access in State Courts also iden­ti­fies clear viol­a­tions of the law.  In DuPage County, Illinois, for example, the courts tell the public:  “There are no stat­utory require­ments nor any consti­tu­tional oblig­a­tions that public funds be expen­ded for appoint­ment of language inter­pret­ers in civil cases.”  Cali­for­nia Governor Schwar­zeneg­ger has vetoed bills provid­ing fund­ing for inter­pret­ers in civil cases.

Nearly 25 million Amer­ic­ans can’t protect their rights in court without an inter­preter. At least 13 million of those people live in states that do not require their courts to provide inter­pret­ers to LEP indi­vidu­als in most types of civil cases. And another 6 million live in states that under­cut their commit­ment to provide inter­pret­ers by char­ging for them.

For more inform­a­tion, or to arrange an inter­view with Laura Abel or with a person with LEP who has been in a state court proceed­ing without an inter­preter, please contact Jean­ine Plant-Chirlin at 212–998–6289 or Jean­

To read the report, visit: http://www.bren­nan­cen­