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Criminal Cases Often Lost in Translation

Posted August 13, 2007

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— A growing number of crime victims and witnesses across North Carolina speak only Spanish, presenting a frustrating language barrier for prosecutors and defense attorneys.

The Wake County District Attorney's Office had used a two-year grant from the Governor's Crime Commission to pay for a Spanish translator. But the grant money ran out at the end of May, leaving prosecutors scrambling for help to communicate with victims and witnesses as they try to bring cases to trial.

Translation problems have delayed a murder case after a vendor was killed at a Raleigh flea market in March, for example. The suspect and several witnesses are Hispanic.

"We can get interpreters to do proceedings in court, but the kind of interactions we need to have with these witnesses and victims we can't use the court interpreters, or at least it's terribly expensive. So, we have to find other ways to do it," District Attorney Colon Willoughby said.

Wake County Public Defender Bryan Collins said he often calls upon bilingual staffers in his office to help translate, but that takes them away from their regular duties.

"The Hispanic population is growing quite fast, and our ability to translate for all of those folks is lagging far behind," Collins said. "It can impact the quality of justice because cases get postponed. Good investigations can't be done when there's that communication problem."

The new state budget includes funds for district attorneys statewide to hire 80 victim witness legal assistants by next July. Willoughby said he wants any local hired to be bilingual to assist with translation needs.

In the meantime, his staff is getting creative to hurdle the language barrier.

"Through the Spanish Department at (North Carolina State University), we've been able to get some students who would come over and translate for us at no charge, which is a tremendous help for us," he said.

34 Comments

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  • JohnB2012 Aug 15, 2007

    If being multilingual is so great and helpful, why haven't all these people in court learned English? Do they only speak Spanish? I guess I can see where knowing a second language would be somewhat helpful. If these people knew English is would probably have shortened the judicial process and maybe kept them out of jail. For the average American, I don't see where being multilingual is much of an advantage.

  • whatusay Aug 14, 2007

    Like That...where do you live...I think because you are so fluent in speaking Spanish you should move to Mexico...I am sure you will find most people there will be able to communicate with you. Americans should not have to speak Spanish...This is America, not Mexico or Cuba...Being able to communicate on American soil in the American language is not only proper but the absolute right we were born with.

  • JohnB2012 Aug 14, 2007

    Why do we keep catering to Spanish speaking people?

  • Yo Aug 14, 2007

    anyone who works legally or illegaly gets taxes taken out of their paychecks, with the only difference that illegals cant get benefits out of the tax money they pay.. if translators are getting paid by tax money at least their taxes are going somewhere.
    be real, illegal immigrants are doing the hard work no one else is wanting to do.. if they had a green card they wouldnt be working under the sun in the hot summer.

  • wizard633 Aug 14, 2007

    One or the requirements for becoming a U.S. citizen is being able to read, write , & speak english. If you can't fill that requirement along with much more, then you illegal! Turn them over to INS for deportation. Simple as that & save the taxpayers some money in the process.

  • ms b Aug 14, 2007

    Pikemom: From personal experience with students from Asian countries, I find the same thing. They cannot speak English, until they need something from you. Which is why I tell them to go get someone to translate for them if they are unable to make themselves understood to me. I am not paid to be a translator and refuse to waste my time trying to be. I it is not just the Spanish speakers that don't speak English when they come here. BTW, I have lived in foreign countries and have endeavored to learn at lest enough of the language to get by.

  • 1 of the original Americans Aug 14, 2007

    What do you call a person that can speak 3 languages?

    Tri-lingual

    What do you call a person that can speak 2 Languages? Bi-lingual
    to clear things up I posted the below ... not to say Yeah! Americans but to bring to light that all of the hispanic bashing on this board is done by people who can not speak English very well themselves but yet want every one to speak one language

    What do you call a person that can speak 1 language?

    AMERICAN!!

  • Like that Aug 14, 2007

    1 of the original Americans
    I call a person that only speaks one language 'simple minded'. There are more countries in the world other than the U.S. A person that can speak another language can get a job ten times faster. Learning other languages is the marketable factor in job hunting, if you have such a big dislike for Spanish and Hispanics, learn another language it will still come in handy. I do not recall this article saying anything about illegal aliens, the article is about the lack of interpreters in the judicial system! Good job WRAL, keep the hate and discrimination fire burning.

  • Jake Wildstar Aug 14, 2007

    1 of the original Americans, Hey, Ive been doing a lot of reading about Indians lately. Did you see the story about the Indians out West letting their migrant workers live in squalid conditions? Seems they dont like illegals much either. I've also been reading up on some history about the Indian wars, I know that you will NEVER read about this in a public school or anyother "modern" history book, but the Indians were really quite savage, killing, raping, EATING white's, I'm not saying all of them were like that, but they definately dont have the peaceful reputation that people try to give them today. So you see it went both ways.

  • Jake Wildstar Aug 14, 2007

    When are Americans as a whole going to get tired of being "blank" on by these people and do something about it? They have their "day without immagrants" which should be called "day without illegals" why cant we rise up as a whole and do something similar, and really shut things down? I bet that would send one hell of a message to the politicians, and maybe something would be done.

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