Supreme Court of New Jersey Rules on In-Person Interpreting in Criminal Jury Trials
Docket No. A-32-22
Decided August 15, 2023
Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark
In a recent published opinion, the Supreme Court of New Jersey was tasked with determining a question of first impression, whether a criminal defendant must be provided in-person interpreting services, rather than video remote interpreting (“VRI”) services, at his jury trial.
Defendant is a native speaker of Kaqchikel, a language spoken by approximately 450,000 people worldwide. In 2019, defendant was charged with several offenses related to a sexual assault. Defendant requested a Kaqchikel interpreter at the pretrial proceedings and one was provided. The interpreter resided on the west coast and appeared remotely at the pretrial hearings. The interpreter utilized for these proceedings did not speak English, and required a second interpreter to translate from Spanish to English.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court announced amendments to the New Jersey Judiciary’s Language Access Plan (“LAP”) and expanded the circumstances in which remote interpreting services may be used. Prior to the update, VRI was allowed only for “emergent matters” or “short non-emergent matters of 30 minutes or less.” The 2022 LAP now allows VRI for both “emergent and routine proceedings,” subject to judicial discretion.
Defendant moved for in-person interpretation services after the court advised his attorney that the Kaqchikel interpreter would continue to appear virtually during the jury trial. At the motion hearing, the Kaqchikel interpreter expressed doubts about his ability to properly provide interpretation services remotely during the trial. The trial court denied defendant’s motion, advising him that the court would give him as much time as he needs, understanding the complexities, not only of interpretations, interpreting through two individuals, and also virtually. The court articulated that the proceedings with VRI during the trial was “what’s financially feasible, what’s fair, what’s just.” Defendant appealed. The Appellate Division denied defendant’s motion for leave to appeal in light of the VRI policy change in 2022. Thereafter, the Supreme Court of New Jersey granted leave to appeal.
Ultimately, the Supreme Court of new Jersey held that 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. In considering whether to proceed to a jury trial with in-person or remote interpreting, trial courts should consider a nonexclusive list of factors: (1) the nature, length, and complexity of the trial; (2) the number of parties and witnesses involved; (3) whether an interpreter is available to interpret in-person at trial; (4) the impact any substantial delay in obtaining an in-person interpreter would have on the defendant and on third-parties such as co-defendants or victims; (5) whether the defendant tentatively plans to testify; (6) the financial costs associated with in-person interpreting as compared to remote interpreting; and (7) the interpreters’ position as to whether they believe they can adequately fulfill their duties to interpret accurately and meet professional standards while interpreting virtually. As a result, the lower court’s decision was reversed and the matter was remanded for the trial court to reconsider whether VRI is appropriate in the current case after assessing those factors.
At Hark & Hark, we are experienced attorneys who represent clients in Superior Court for issues like the previously discussed case. We work hard to ensure that our clients receive exceptional representation in order for them to receive the most favorable outcome in their case as a result.
We offer payment plan options to clients financially incapable of providing full payment upfront. If you are facing a similar situation to that of the defendant in this case, please call us to discuss the matter. At Hark & Hark, we represent clients for any case in any county in New Jersey including Atlantic County, Bergen County, Burlington County, Camden County, Cape May County, Cumberland County, Essex County, Gloucester County, Hudson County, Hunterdon County, Mercer County, Middlesex County, Monmouth County, Morris County, Ocean County, Passaic County, Salem County, Somerset County, Sussex County, Union County, and Warren County and any town including Audubon, Gloucester City, Oaklyn, Audubon Park, Gloucester Township, Pennsauken, Barrington, Haddon Heights, Pine Hill, Bellmawr, Haddon Township, Pine Valley, Berlin Borough, Haddonfield, Runnemede, Berlin Township, Hi-Nella, Somerdale, Brooklawn, Laurel Springs, Stratford, Camden, Lawnside, Voorhees, Cherry Hill, Lindenwold, Waterford, Chesilhurst, Magnolia, Winslow, Clementon, Merchantville, Woodlynne, Collingswood, Mt. Ephraim, and Gibbsboro.