Know Your Rights! Limited English Proficiency Rights in the Justice System

Limited English Proficiency Rights in the Justice System

Know Your Rights! LEP Rights in the Justice System

Imagine you are in a country where you don’t speak the language. You’re suddenly arrested and put on trial for a crime. To many people, this sounds like a nightmare! For millions of limited English proficiency (LEP) Americans this is a real fear. More than 20% of the US population speaks a language other than English at home. So how does our justice system work for these tens of millions of people? A huge network of court interpreters and translators!


What Does LEP Mean?

Limited English proficiency is classified in many industries. Its legal definition is, “Individuals who do not speak English as their primary language and who have a limited ability to read, speak, write, or understand English.” [1] An LEP person is someone whose native language is something other than English. An LEP person does not understand English very well. More than 60 million Americans are classified LEP!


What Rights Do LEP People Have in Court?

Courts do not allow discrimination based on national origin. The established Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes sure of that. The Supreme Court ruled that this applied to discrimination “based on English proficiency.” [2] A court case is stressful for anyone! If you don’t speak the language of your lawyers and the judge it is terrifying. Without language services, people can’t fully participate in the proceedings. This means an LEP person may not get justice.

In 2000, President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 13166. This order says that LEP people should have access to programs and activities in their own languages. [3] Any organization that receives Federal funds has to provide free LEP services. All courts have to provide interpreting and translation to all LEP people. An LEP person can have an interpreter provided for them at every stage of their legal process. This makes sense though! If the LEP person and their legal team can’t understand each other, how will they win their case?

How Does Court Interpreting Work?

A LEP person is assigned a certified court interpreter when in court. Courts and states determine the what it takes to become a certified court interpreter. An interpreter can get certified for federal, state, and local courts. Certified court interpreters provide accurate, impartial services in stressful court proceedings. The interpreter assigned is either staff or “per diem”. Staff courtroom interpreters are employed directly by the court. A “per diem” courtroom interpreter is hired through an agency.

Most interpreting is simultaneous in the courtroom. Simultaneous interpretation is the translation of speech from one language into another, simultaneously. While interpreting, the interpreter and LEP person are both wearing headphones and microphones. This way, they speak and listen to the interpreting and dialogue in real time. By using simultaneous interpreting the court proceedings move more quickly.

The Importance of Language Access

Think back to that nightmare scenario of being charged in court without understanding what’s going on. In the last 50 years, the Supreme Court has ruled to try to make sure this doesn’t happen. Unfortunately, it still is a problem and has serious consequences. In 2010 Annie Ling, a LEP Mandarin speaker, was sentenced to 10 years in prison. The reason? Ling went never had an interpreter. She didn’t understand her case because she didn’t speak English. Plus, the court and her lawyer couldn’t talk to her! [4] Luckily for Annie, she got a second chance. Her case went through the appeal process. This time she had the help of an interpreter. But not everyone is able to get a second chance.

Judges worry about LEP people in court. A few years ago, a Federal judge named Eric. T. Washington in Washington, D.C. wrote the following:

When state courts fail to provide competent interpreters for people in civil cases who are of limited English proficiency, they can’t protect their children, they can’t protect their homes, they can’t protect their safety. Courts suffer because they lose faith in the justice system. Society suffers because its laws cannot be enforced: laws guaranteeing minimal wages, laws barring domestic violence and illegal evictions can’t be enforced.

Acutrans commits to helping LEP people to get the justice they deserve! Our legal interpreting team is the best in Chicago. We have the skill and determination to help as many people as possible. Acutrans has court interpreters and legal translators. We help judges, lawyers, and clients with their language needs. Check out our website for more information.