The criminal legal system is a maze. People who find themselves in this maze are frequently cornered by its classist and racist hedges and dead ends. While much of the system is plagued with elitist legalese that disadvantages lay people, this complexity is compounded when an individual cannot understand its language. From arrest to sentencing, limited English proficient (LEP) (1) defendants are tasked not only with finding their way through the maze, but are essentially also doing so with a blindfold.
Language and cultural barriers affect every element of the criminal legal process. These challenges are even more pronounced when dealing with minority cultures and underrepresented languages. While the use of translation services and interpreters attempt to ameliorate the challenges, the salves are insufficient to address these inequities.
LEP criminal defendants are often left behind as the criminal legal system churns through its docket. According to a 2014 study conducted by Legal Services NYC, 74% of New York City lawyers reported experiencing interpreter-related adjournments and delays while representing their LEP clients. (2) Even when interpreters are made available, dire mistakes are made when carrying out representation due to errors in interpretation: for example, in 2016, a Spanish-speaking defendant in Virginia thought he was he was being accused of rape when his interpreter used the term "violacion" to describe a criminal violation. (3) These missteps go beyond mere miscommunication and constitute constitutional violations of the protections guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment, Miranda v. Arizona, (4) Brady v. United States, (5) and Padilla v. Kentucky. (6)
LEP criminal defendants are some of the criminal legal system's most vulnerable victims. (7) As our society becomes increasingly multicultural and multilingual, (8) and as the Latine (9) community becomes the dominant "minority" group in the United States, (10) it is imperative that the criminal legal system improves its solutions to meet the needs of our diverse U.S. communities.
While legal scholars, such as Jasmine B. Gonzales Rose, have articulated the ramifications of poor interpretation and linguistic and racial bias in particular parts of the trial process, few scholars have surveyed the compounding due process implications which, in each step of the criminal process, distort and disrupt the rights of LEP criminal defendants. This Note provides an exploration of common issues that arise for LEP criminal defendants throughout the criminal process, while also providing guidance to stakeholders in the criminal legal system who might be able to intervene and improve upon these problematic practices.
This Note outlines the obstacles that LEP defendants encounter...