In Criminal Matters
The Court Interpreters Act (28 USC 1827) provides for qualified interpreters to be present in court for criminal cases. Their services are paid for by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
The Southern District of New York has seven federally certified Spanish interpreters on staff. Contract interpreters in Spanish and other languages are called in on a freelance basis when needed.
In-court criminal matters: An interpreter will be present at every court appearance. The Interpreters Office is notified of court dates by the Judge's staff.
Out-of-court attorney-client consultations for CJA and retained counsel: Interviews in the cellblock before or after a court proceeding, or interviews with family members, are incidental to the proceeding and not automatically covered by the court interpreter. In-court matters take precedence over out-of-court matters. We often provide this additional service as a courtesy to Federal Defenders and CJA attorneys, but cannot guarantee it. If notified in advance, however, we will make every effort to accomodate requests. According to the Guide to Judiciary Policy, retained counsel are responsible for the hiring and payment of contract interpreters to assist them before or following a court proceeding.
Please note that staff interpreters are not permitted to accept out-of-court assignments after work hours in the same district in which they work.
For defense witnesses: If the defendant requires an interpreter, the same interpreter who is in court will interpret for the defendant or other defense witnesses, regardless of whether counsel is assigned or retained. In all other cases, if defense counsel require an interpreter for a witness, arrangements should be made through the interpreters office with a minimum of 24 hours' notice.
Government witnesses: Interpreters for government witnesses are scheduled and paid for by the U.S. Attorney's Office, as per 28 USC 1827.
In Civil Matters
Unless the government is the plaintiff in a civil suit, civil matters do not come under the purview of the Court Interpreters Act. Accordingly, the Interpreters Office of this courthouse is not available to provide interpreters for conferences or other civil proceedings unless by special request of the judge. However, the Office can recommend interpreters based on their background and experience.
If translations of foreign documents are to be introduced into evidence, these matters should be taken up in the first instance with the courtroom deputy, who will bring it to the attention of the assigned judge for further instructions.
Scheduling through the SDNY Interpreters Office
The office needs a minumum one business day's' notice of the need for an interpreter. If a previously scheduled case is canceled, the office should be notified immediately.
The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts provides for cancellation policies in the event that interpretation services are cancelled with less than 24 hours' notice. These policies are also applied to CJA assignments. If an assignment is cancelled with less than 24 hours' notice, the interpreter's fee is paid unless the interpreter can obtain other employment for the same time period. The cancellation policy is necessary because otherwise it would be difficult to get contract interpreters to work for the courts. Every effort should be made not to cancel an interpreter once one has been requested.
Locating freelance interpreters for out-of-court assignments
Attorneys seeking to contact a freelance interpreter for their own purposes are advised to begin making arrangements a few days ahead of time. Last-minute planning for language services often results in failure or frustration. The SDNY Interpreters Office will provide contact information upon request.
Scheduling and compensation are arranged by retained or CJA counsel with the individual interpreter, compensation not being contingent on third party payment. Interpreter rates will vary depending on how long the job will take, language and other variables.