When Justice has no choice but to be unfair

Her poise did not disguise her youth. Articulate as she was, one could not help but feel her insecurities. She was introduced as the interpreter for her step-father. Her first confident words were “I don’t think I can do this, but I will try. I don’t understand any of this.”

The judge was not dissuaded. This was not the defendant’s first time in front of her in this case. The last continuance was granted because he insisted he needed an interpreter. He was instructed to get one at his own expense. The hearing would go on.

It was not a simple case. There were fatalities, uncertainties surrounding the sequence of events, expert witness testimony, depositions in three different languages, three different interpreters, reports. She stood by her step-father and did her best, requesting numerous repetitions, explanations, clarifications. She did not give up.

No one complained about the repetitions, the tedious pace of the hearing, or the girl’s lack of experience. The judge was indulgent, nudging her to do her job when she forgot to interpret something – it was all so fascinating; concentration was difficult. At times she forgot what she was supposed to do and just looked at those speaking as if she could see the words they were saying. Mysterious words.

Adjudication. Burden. Remorse. Hearing. Sentence. Conviction. Community Service. Chain reaction. Plea.  New words with unique meanings in their special setting and that communicated nothing to her.  “I don’t think I can say that.” “Can you please repeat?”  “What does it mean?”

Haitian Creole turned into English. English turned into Korean. Korean turned back into English, and then back into Haitian Creole.  The same path was followed for Brazilian Portuguese. The hearing got lengthier and lengthier. The judge’s patience did not waver.  “Just ask for us to repeat if you do not understand something.”

The sentence was issued and read. The case was over—but not for the young interpreter.

“I want to commend you on an outstanding job. You did a great job helping your step-father and I want you to know it. How old are you?”



–        Tittle VI – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qaVKy-2HWIo
–        Department of Justice video on Court Interpreting – http://youtu.be/BnGgia8dNKU

0 thoughts on “When Justice has no choice but to be unfair”

  1. Great job! You illustrated the dangers of using unqualified interpreters without lecturing. Merely by telling a story and letting us do the analysis. The best was the way you drove home the point with the ending.

    Thank you for sharing this.

  2. Gio Lester says:

    Thank you, María Cristina. I was holding myself back not to speak to the judge. Even after the fact. I am grateful to have this vehicle as a forum for more advocacy.

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