published Sunday, July 15th, 2012

Tennessee provides translators for victims in court proceedings

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In March, Bradley County agreed in a federal lawsuit to pay $10,000 to a Hispanic man who was forced to pay for an interpreter in General Sessions Court. Flores Vidal Enriquez sued under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 10964. The interpreter, Mark Weissenberg, has a lawsuit pending in state court against Bradley County over what he says are unpaid fees for his services.

NASHVILLE — Tennessee will now provide translation services to non-English speaking crime victims during court proceedings.

The move comes after a federal mandate ordering states to provide free translation services to plaintiffs and defendants during court or risk losing federal aid. While considering how to go about providing services, the Tennessee Supreme Court asked for input and heard from a group that the federal government hasn’t mentioned: victims.

The Tennessean newspaper reported that after hearing from victims’ advocates and a Nashville prosecutor who talked about victims not understanding court proceedings, the justices opted to expand translation services. The change took effect July 1.

“It is important that not only those charged with a crime, but also crime victims, divorcing parents and all those who find themselves before the courts are able to communicate effectively,” Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Cornelia A. Clark said in a statement. “We are one of the first states to take this much-needed initiative that will benefit the many diverse people that interact with our courts.”

Nashville victims’ advocate Verna Wyatt said the move would improve the criminal justice system.

“I’m happy to see that victims of crime were included in that. For so many years, victims of crimes weren’t even thought of, much less a second thought,” she said. “I think it’s going to help the victims, I think it’s going to help the prosecutors.”

Until now, the state officials had paid only to translate for indigent defendants and witnesses while they testified at a cost of $25 to $50 an hour.

Nashville Assistant District Attorney General Rob McGuire said he thinks it is an important tool for victims to have.

“It’s daunting for someone who speaks English, who has maybe more of a cultural connection to the American criminal justice system,” McGuire said of most court proceedings. “But imagine if you didn’t have any of those things? Just the basic ‘What’s going on?’ question you’d have a hard time getting answered.”

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