AUSA Checklist for Working with Interpreters

What to Tell the Interpreter for Context (in proffers or other Interview situations)

Since words are not interpreted in isolation but in context, the interpreter needs to have an idea of the general context, or subject matter, of a case in order to follow the questioning. If you take a few minutes to brief the interpreter before the assignment, it will help avoid confusion later on. Please inform the interpreter of:

  1. What the case is about: cast of characters (names and nicknames), places, overall plot, time sequence of events
  2. Frequently mentioned numbers: amounts of drugs or money, accounts, phone numbers, beeper numbers, etc.
  3. Where the witness is from, how many years he has lived in the U.S. (this will help interpreter anticipate Anglicisms or mixed-language responses)
  4. Educational level of witness, any speech defects or mental problems
  5. Any documents or evidence likely to be referred to or shown to the witness
  6. Any code words used, especially the original words used in the foreign language. ( If there is more than one variant of the word in Spanish, for example, the interpreter may interpret a code word in English into a different word than the subjects used.)

Recommended Questions to Ask Interpreters Prior to Using Them in Trials

  1. How long have you been a practicing interpreter in the legal field? How often do you work in court?
  2. What interpreting training have you received or are you self-taught?
  3. Has your accuracy as an interpreter ever been tested?
  4. Have you interpreted at the witness stand before, in front of a jury? In civil cases only, or in criminal cases as well? Are you accustomed to interpreting both direct and cross-examination?
  5. What is the extent of your experience, if any, in state court?
  6. Have you worked for any other party in this case? Have you worked as an interpreter on any in-court proceedings in this case?
  7. Please describe the code of ethics which interpreters should follow. (Confidentiality, impartiality, faithfulness, no editing or embellishing, no ex parte communication with the witness.)
  8. What will you do if you don't understand something the witness has said? (The interpreter must ask the judge for permission to address the witness to request a clarification of a word or expression.)
  9. What will you do if you believe that you have rendered some testimony erroneously? ( Correct on the record at first opportunity, or at next recess, tell AUSA so that it can be clarified with follow-up questions.)