What Would You Have Done?

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After months of investigation, the case finally made it into the courtroom. The defendants were assembled all together, and the presiding judge was questioning them one by one. After some time, the interpreter, who was positioned close to where the defendants were being held, interrupted the proceeding and informed the Court that the defendants were sharing the answers among themselves. The lawyers immediately rose to their feet and complained about the interpreter’s interference. The presiding judge ordered the defendants be held separately from then on.

Would you have done the same if you were the interpreter in this case?

  1. Yes, right there and then.
    2. Yes, but would have called for a side bar.
    3. No. Not my responsibility.
    4. No. After some time the judge will realize what is going on.
    5. …

24 thoughts on “What Would You Have Done?”

  1. Would there not have been a way to interpret what each defendant was saying as they were sharing answers? That way the defendants would realize that everything they said would be interpreted and the Judge would be aware of at least one of their “side” conversations. The interpreter would have no responsibility at that point to “report” anything.

  2. julie wagner says:

    I would have passed a note to my attorney, the prosecutor or the judge depending on the type of case and circumstances, and remained in the background.

  3. julie wagner says:

    What a courageous colleague! I too would have informed someone but would have remained in the background. You can pass a note to the prosecutor or judge through the bailiff, you know.

  4. JOSE AGUIRRE says:


  5. Chen Chiu Joyce Lin says:

    No, not right there and then, I would call for a side bar as soon as I can but not causing a scene.

  6. Gio Lester says:

    I might have requested a side-bar instead of interrupting the proceedings so conspicuously.

  7. yonathan Ambaye says:

    I absolutely will not . The attorneys and the judge should be watching that. Now if I am blocking their view somehow, which should not happen, then I could possibly move over. Outside of that I think it will be very unethical for me do anything about it.

  8. I think it’s up to the interpreter as a professional to decide how they wish to intervene, as to me the main issue is that intervention was required, as the interpreter may have been the only officer of the court that heard what was happening, due to the language skills and proximity. The fact that the lawyers complained is not surprising, but inconsequent. In a proceeding the interpreter is not working for the lawyer but for benefit and objectives of the court in the delivery of justice. I am not sure the side bar approach would have worked as the defendants have a right to know everything that is being said in the courtroom during a proceeding, intervening out loud for all to hear may protect the transparency of such a process as this was not a legal issue to be discussed, simply relevant information to the court for a just and safe proceeding.

    To me that was not interrupting, it was a professional intervention. It may be seen as an interruption to those that do not understand that the interpreter’s work properly and think that they are simply linguistic machines that transfer information back and forth, therefore have no the need to interfere/intervene.

    Too often within our profession, and outside our profession, individuals wish to curtail the ability of the interpreter to do their work in the most effective manner. End users have expectations of the interpreter as a passive tool and not as a professional, that is the conduit model for you. Newer research has been alerting us all that interpreters are not providing personal opinions but acting as professionals who need to have agency, or a voice. The reason they need this is that they ultimately are active agents who interact and have professional goals and objectives that are 1) linguistic (requiring clarifications, which are interventions) and also 2) professional goals which are related to the context or settings they work in, be it legal or medical or educational. If they work in the legal field, they have goals, objectives and behaviors that are required of them because they are court officers , to uphold the delivery of justice, which are far more relevant than the ethical code of not being obtrusive.

    Last, interpreters are being taught mostly the conduit model of attempting to be invisible to allow for a seamless flow of communication. This is causing interpreters to say things such as ‘I am not allowed to interrupt a proceeding once it is in course’ or ‘I am not there to give my opinions’, all with some merit but with lack of understanding about the complexity of their own professional practice and role within the justice system. What is the purpose of a seamless flow when there is no communication if there is no understanding or if certain things are not clarified or stated? That is simply the APPEARANCE of a seamless flow of communication, a topic for another day.

  9. Ricardo Eva says:

    I agree with Gio Lester…I would´ve asked for a side-bar also

  10. Sylvia Becker says:

    Absolutely. The Code of Ethics tells us that we never interrupt a procedure. We respectfully ask for a side bar..

  11. Armida Hernandez says:

    Think about it. What would have happened had they all been English-speaking defendants? You wouldn’t have been able to be privy to their activities. So, no, I wouldn’t have intervened on this issue at all. Stick to interpreting. Now, if they were engaging in some criminal activity such as possessing a shank and planning to attack the judge or attorneys, then of course, by all means report that. But this scenario does not rise to that level. It’s a security issue/failure that should be addressed by and to them by the relevant parties.

  12. Tania King says:

    I would have called for a side bar.

  13. Chris Corsbie says:

    As an officer of the court, the terp did their duty with appropriate alacrity, in my professional opinion as a Interpreter Supervisor and trainer working in the criminal courts of Texas.

  14. Vivian Kurzendoerfer says:

    I’m assuming that the defendants were visible to the judge and the attorneys, and that it was obvious to all that they were talking to each other. In that case it should’ve been the responsibility of the judge or the attorneys to say: “Interpreter, what are they saying?”

  15. The interpreter is the Court’s expert. So absolutely, the interpreter must bring this to the attention of the judge. However, all such interventions must be done at sidebar, because only the judge has the right to rule on which evidence is admissible and which is not. Therefore, interpreters must never put forth evidence on the record, circumventing the judge’s prerogative to admit it or not.

  16. if they were english-speaking, then everyone else would have heard & realized what they were doing. the interpreter also happens to be an employee of the court, for the time=period that he / she is serving. as such, he / she has the duty to protect the integrity of proceedings.

  17. randall l fiore says:

    No. Not my responsibility.

  18. Diana Arbiser says:

    I have to agree with Armida Hernández here. In cases like this one, I always like to ask myself what would the situation had been if the defendant(s) spoke English. As long as it’s not a situation that would warrant an intervention due to possible harm or danger, the interpreter doesn’t seem to have a say about what’s going on between the defendants. Of course, it’s a personal call sometimes to define what “harm” or “danger” are, and sometimes it may be necessary to err in the side of caution. If that’s the case, yes, a sidebar might be the answer to a borderline situation.

  19. Alicia Rankin says:

    I agree 100% , Armida.

  20. Jennifer Jordan USFCCI says:

    I fully agree with the last comment. We are NEUTRAL service providers, not spies for any side.
    Always remember the best complement an interpreter could hear is: “I forgot you were here”.Thank you.

  21. Maria Delana says:

    Just keep interpreting!

    Thank you for this wonderful forum!!

  23. Alfredo Babler says:

    This is a good one. Everybody wants to be way too Kardashan, if I may be brutally honest. Just do your job and stop seeking attention like a narcissist teenager. Or what, are you going to conduct the proceeding on behalf of the court authorities? You are, for all intents and purposes, a machine in these proceedings. A radio receiver and transmitter that relays verbal communications. There’s way too much of the obnoxious, “Your honor, the interpreter this; your honor, the interpreter that; your honor, me, myself, the interpreter and I this, that and the other.” For the love of… STOP IT! CUT IT OUT! KNOCK IT OFF! Do your job and zip it. There’s a very wise saying in Spanish that you should always keep in mind: “El que poco habla, poco erra.” Know your place. If you want the limelight, join SAG, go to castings and find yourself all you want, outside the courtroom.

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