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If you speak Spanish, how are you going to testify in court? Can you even open a lawsuit? Many of our Legalmente Hablando Indy and Goodin Abernathy LLP clients speak Spanish as primary language. Our team speaks Spanish. But what happens in court or when we take our clients to depositions for interviews by other attorneys? Who interprets for them in the court room? This article covers basic questions litigants have about using interpreters in a legal proceeding.
To begin, yes, the law allows Spanish and non-English speakers to open lawsuits and testify in court. The U.S. Constitution provides equal access to our courts for individuals and businesses. Access includes removing language barriers for non-English speakers.

Interpreter or Translator?

Many people casually trade the terms interpreter and translator when referring to a person that converts a foreign language to English. The difference is whether the conversion is oral or written. A person who orally converts another language to English, is an INTERPRETER. A person who converts written material written in a foreign language to English is a TRANSLATOR. When attorneys, litigants and judges are working in a court room or another legal proceeding, most often the need is for an interpreter to convert foreign languages, like Spanish, to English on a real time basis.

Who Qualifies As An Interpreter?

Using a family member or friend that speaks both Spanish and English to interpret in the courtroom would be easy and cheap, but the system requires licensed and approved interpreters. The legal process requires accuracy and fairness. Interpreters swear an oath for the judge to truly and accurately convert languages. They are trained to take notes and interpret testimony and court proceedings in real time. Licensed interpreters are trained how to interact with the judges and attorneys while testimony happens. This is a big reason why friends or family are not allowed to interpret in the court room.

Who Pays For An Interpreter?

Legal proceedings occur in and out of the court room. Before a trial or hearing begins, attorneys typically conduct discovery to collect evidence for their case. During discovery, depositions are often taken to prepare for trial. This is where an attorney uses a court reporter to record a formal interview of a party or witness. In this legal setting, the attorney and client who requested the testimony are responsible for 1) hiring a licensed interpreter and 2) paying the interpreter. However, licensed interpreters are not needed for all discovery efforts. An attorney can speak with a witness informally and take a statement without an interpreter. But that informal statement probably cannot be used in court.

If action is taking place inside a courtroom, then the court system is required to provide and pay for a licensed interpreter. Since our legal system is required to serve all people, without language barriers, our government supports the judicial system by paying for the interpreter services.

Sometimes court action takes place outside the courtroom. For instance, if a judge orders parties to mediate a case, the court is responsible for paying the interpreter. If the court orders the activity, the court pays for an interpreter to facilitate the activity.

Can We Call Someone Or Just Use A Computer Application To Interpret?

It seems practical to use a computer application to interpret or translate, but speed and reliability are important. A cell phone app will not be allowed to replace an interpreter. Sometimes, if the court hearing is short and uncontested, the court may use a phone line service to interpret rather than having an interpreter present in the courtroom. Indiana uses a service called Language Line.

However, a court must use a live interpreter for things like criminal guilty pleas, trials and other disputed hearings.

When there are questions about interpreter requirements, courts can contact the Indiana Office of Judicial Administration at This department will support courts and attorneys with questions about interpreters and Indiana legal proceedings.

Contact attorney Jim Browne at Legalmente Hablando Indy and the Goodin Abernathy LLP law firm for more questions. Our Spanish speaking staff communicates directly with our clients and has the experience needed for handling cases involving interpreters.