Law and language: When language is a barrier in the criminal justice system

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Walking into a court room as a victim or the accused can already be a nerve-racking experience. Especially if it is the first time someone is interacting with the criminal justice system. Now, imagine walking into a court room and everybody around you is speaking another language. Even the person that is supposed to represent you. “There is a need for bilingual paralegals. The biggest complaint I receive is clients not being able to talk to their attorneys directly,” said Villarrubia & Rosenberger, P.C. immigration attorney Tabitha Villarrubia. She has seen several cases where lawyers and firms only have one Spanish speaker on their team. “So often I have seen criminal attorneys have someone quickly sign plea agreements without thoroughly explaining the situation. Because of the language barrier, they just try to sweep it under the rug.” According to a U.S. Department of Justice, having no interpreter or having incompetent interpreters dramatically magnifies the barriers that deny equal access to justice for linguistic minority litigants. This interferes with the court’s ability to serve justice when linguistic minorities are victims or witnesses. In Indiana, 91.05% of residents speak only English while 8.95% speak another language. Spanish comprises 4.64% of languages spoken...