Bilingualism is not enough

The Daytona Beach Newsjournal has an article about an unsatisfactory interpreter, her lack of qualifications and the problems of selecting court interpreters. I hope it will remain available, but just in case, here is some:

Unable to speak English, Juan Ramon Alfonzo stood before a judge and expected to receive probation for stealing a toolbox.
To his surprise, the judge sentenced him to 15 years in prison, followed by 15 years of probation, for stealing a dump truck valued at $125,000.
Now, court officials agree Alfonzo entered the wrong plea because his court-hired interpreter, Marianne Verruno, provided an incomprehensible translation.
Two weeks ago, a circuit judge tossed out his plea and sentencing to allow Alfonzo to start the court process over.
“Ms. Verruno is far from being fluent in Spanish,” an expert interpreter wrote in a report to the judge. “She may be conversant enough for social situations but her Spanish is not minimally adequate to interpret in a court of law.”

(The article goes into more detail on the dump truck / toolbox story). And on the subject of qualification:

Local court officials say they cannot recall another complaint about bad translations. A federal accrediting association, however, says Florida may be vulnerable to similar problems. It is one of several states in the nation that do not require court-appointed interpreters to pass a skills test and be accredited by the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators. …

Court records indicate Verruno was required only to fill out a one-page application to be hired as a court translator. On it, Verruno wrote she was fluent in Spanish and aphasia — the ability to translate for people unable to speak, such as stroke victims.

I suppose it takes an extreme case for lawyers to notice the problems.

The expert, Maria Cecilia Marty, evaluated transcripts from the court’s digital recording in English and Spanish, and said the interpretation did not make sense.
“The interpretation was so highly deficient, (Alfonzo) never even got to the part about his right to go to jury trial,” Marty said in a telephone interview. “Maybe, if he got 5 percent of what was said, he was lucky. “

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