Trials and Foreign Language Interpretation (Part 2)

by | Nov 12, 2023 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The New Jersey Supreme Court continued in relevant part: In a criminal jury trial, there is a presumption that foreign language interpretation services will be provided in person, which is consistent with the New Jersey Judiciary’s longstanding practice. The Court sets forth guidelines and factors to assist trial courts in deciding whether VRI should be used during criminal jury trials, and it remands the matter for the trial court to reconsider whether VRI is appropriate in the current case after assessing those factors.

The Sixth Amendment and its counterpart in the New Jersey Constitution afford criminal defendants the right to a fair trial, the right of confrontation, and the right to counsel. And due process protects a criminal defendant’s right to a fair trial by guaranteeing the defendant’s right to be present and to fully participate during trial. The spoken word is unquestionably the principal method of communication during in-court proceedings, so a participant’s ability to understand and communicate through language is key to ensuring the fairness of the proceedings. A criminal defendant in federal proceedings has a statutory right to such assistance, and federal circuit courts have acknowledged a defendant’s right to an interpreter. New Jersey courts have also noted a criminal defendant’s right to an interpreter and the constitutional underpinnings of that right, which is tied to the defendant’s “rights under the confrontation and assistance of counsel provisions of our federal and state Constitutions.” See State v. Kounelis, 258 N.J. Super. 420, 422, 425-27 (App. Div. 1992). And other jurisdictions similarly recognize a criminal defendant’s right to an interpreter.

If nothing else, the defendant’s raising of this issue will delay his trial. From here, the case will be sent back to the trial court to decide the interpreting issue. Once it is decided, the defendant can again seek leave to appeal to the Appellate Division and New jersey Supreme Court before his trial begins.