Court Cases Gone Wrong: Why Hiring a Professional Interpreter Is a Must

Dynamic Language | May 1, 2017

gavel_400x269.jpgNo one wants to be wrongly accused and found guilty of a crime they didn’t commit. Those who are guilty, and trying to repent, should have the chance to explain themselves in court. The ability to comprehend everything in the courtroom is what makes all the difference in a fair trial, after all.

Let’s take a look at some court cases gone wrong as a result of mis-interpretation.

Mistaking “Rape” and “Traffic Violation”

Misinterpretations in court can make even the smallest case turn into the biggest of headaches. This dilemma was seen largely in the case of a Spanish male fighting a traffic violation. It is one of the more obscene instances of a misinterpretation in court, and as a result, the story held internet fame for a short period.
During this hearing, the interpreter told the client there was a charge against him, using the word “violación.” In Spanish, however, this translates to “rape,” and the courtroom interpreter should have said “infracción” instead. What came next was shocking, but it perfectly describes why professional interpreters are necessary — the man continuously yelled, to his defense, that he was not a rapist.

Other Examples of Courtroom Injustice

That quirky story is only one of many cases where a difference of languages leads to a court case getting influenced in one way or another. Just look below at some of the thousands of cases where language barriers in the legal profession have held a real impact.

Tales From a New York Defense Lawyer

One New York-based defense lawyer spoke to the New York Times about a few instances when language barriers made an impact on his court cases. His oldest example dates back to 1991, when a man received a wrongful conviction on drug trafficking charges. His prosecution came as a result of inaccuracies in translation, made by the appointed courtroom interpreter.
He detailed another instance, in a 2003 attempted murder case, that the defense lawyer was arguing to have thrown out. The defense’s logic was that the defendant spoke Krio, a “butchered version of English,” and that an interpreter was required.
Against the prosecutor’s requests, it was granted to allow the defendant to have a fair trial — as the defense grew restless of the “paraphrasing,” done to benefit the prosecuting side.

Fresh Trial in Arkansas

There was a man who received a 60-year sentence for “rape, attempted murder, aggravated residential burglary and aggravated assault.” The conviction came because the defendant gave a statement admitting guilt, but it was in Spanish.
The translator of the accused claimed the statement translates to “not guilty,” while the prosecutor’s translator said it meant “guilty.” As a result, the statement was thrown out, and there was a new trial requested by the judge.

The Trapped Tourists

There are many first-hand accounts of Americans traveling to Asian countries and getting tricked by corrupt police. Just search for “drug planting Thailand” to get endless examples.
The common tale involves an officer, speaking primarily in their native tongue, planting drugs and pretending the tourist had them all along. This is usually done to extort a measly $500 or $1,000 from the unsuspecting tourist.
Without translation help, and with a need to request extradition from the U.S., it can be tough to form a proper defense. With countries like the Philippines pushing their death penalty on drug offenses back to the surface, not having a professional interpreter around can prove to be a deadly mistake.


It is impossible to deny the importance of a quality translation service in court. When a language barrier exists, using a pro interpreter is the only way to stand a fair trial. The court will not throw out a case over misunderstandings. However, everyone has the right to have a professional translator by their side. And don’t forget, that’s someone with actual legal experience — not just a random translation service or bilingual person wanting to help out.

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