Although many people realize there are barriers to healthcare services for underserved populations, few people understand the impact of a language barrier when accessing things like the legal system.
Failing to understand things like the charges against you or being unable to communicate your side of the story can have an adverse effect on your trial. While federal courts generally employ qualified interpreters, this same accommodation may not be present at a state or local level.
Those who speak English as a second language or who are not proficient in it are at a disadvantage when dealing with the legal system. Some courts do not display multi-lingual signs stating the services available to non-English speakers. Those who are eligible to receive these services may not how to ask for them or know what to ask about. Under the Sixth Amendment, individuals have a right to counsel, and subsequent cases establish the right to a court interpreter during criminal proceedings.
Not being able to fully understand the complex language of court documents, read the summons or communicate effectively when on the stand could jeopardize the individual’s access to justice. The challenges could also negatively affect the outcome of a case when a jury is present, as language barriers can impact the ability to connect with everyone in the courtroom.
Those who rely on English as a second language or who do not speak English are at a disadvantage when summed to court. However, these individuals receive the same rights in the legal system as others, though it is often harder to ascertain or invoke those rights.