Language Barriers in the Wisconsin Court System: The Latino/a Experience

Martin G. Urbina, University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee

Over the years reformers have tried to address the many challenges facing the criminal court system. However, while many improvements have been made, there are areas that not only need improving but that need immediate attention. In particular, equal access to the law is being denied to many non-English speaking Latinos/as in our nations courts due to poor court interpreting. Untrained court interpreters are being sworn in to interpret although they lack the necessary skills in interpretation. These unqualified interpreters often omit testimony, or add to it, encourage clients to plea guilty, or make up words to mask their language deficiency. At times they do not interpret at all, leaving the defendant in the dark as to what is actually transpiring during the legal proceedings. Given the fact that Latinos/as are now the largest minority group in the country, I think that this matter is of almost importance, especially in jurisdictions with high concentrations of Latinos/as. The first objective of this project is to explore the matter in depth (via observations and interviews with practitioners) in one particular state, Wisconsin. The second objective is to propose possible remedies to the existing shortcomings of court interpretation in the Wisconsin court system.

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Updated 05/20/2006