Sometimes your legal translator will also become your expert witness at trial, which is why it is imperative at the outset of litigation to hire a legal translator with impeccable credentials.
In U.S. v. Kahn, 794 F.3d 1288 (11th Cir. 2015), the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit considered a challenge to the appropriateness of words added in brackets by the Government’s translator to augment the literal translations of Defendant’s conversations.
The main evidence against the Defendant, who was accused of terrorism-related money laundering, consisted of 200 telephone calls and 40 in-person conversations that were translated and then transcribed by FBI-certified linguists from Pashto and Urdu into English.
The Government’s translator explained the reason for adding words in brackets: “[S]ometimes during the course of translating from one language to another, you come across a word that signifies a concept or does not have a direct meaning in the target language” and that a literal translation would therefore “mislead an English reader.” The translator never replaced words that were spoken; rather, he augmented the literal translation with bracketed words to clarify what the speaker meant.
Thus, for example, although the word “Shagirdan” in Pashto can mean “student,” it can also serve as a substitute for “Taliban.” The translator testified that he inserted the word “Taliban” in brackets following the word “Shagirdan” when he was confident from the context that Shagirdan was used as a type of “code word,” often during conversations about “fighting” and “lying low,” in which case the word “student” would make little sense.
The Defendant appealed his conviction on the ground that only literal “word-for-word” translations should have been admitted at trial. The appellate court rejected this argument, holding as follows:[The translator] did what any translator would do: perform the act of “rendering from one language … to another.” Interpreters and translators engage in a process far more complex than the “mechanical substitution of words in one language with their verbatim equivalent in another”; instead, taking statements in one language and expressing them in a different language “requires a continuing exercise of judgment and analysis of what is meant or intended to be said by the parties.” After all, “[a] word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged, it is the skin of a living thought and may vary greatly in color and content according to the circumstances and the time in which it is used.” For this reason, courts routinely rely on the expertise of translators and interpreters to transport these “living thoughts” from one language to another.
The importance of this ruling is that a translator is permitted to add words in brackets to clarify the speaker’s meaning, and it is the Defendant’s obligation either to cross-examine the translator to persuade the jury that the words were incorrectly added or to call his own expert witness to provide an alternate translation.
Thus, hiring a translator with the appropriate credentials at the beginning of litigation can make all the difference in both civil and criminal cases. Lingua Franca Translations provides certified translators who can also act as expert witnesses at trial. Call us for more information.