Civil Litigation Criminal Law Legal Topics Litigation Strategy Trial Strategy

What to Do about an Incompetent Interpreter

455104761A witness who would otherwise be incompetent because he or she can’t understand or speak English can be made effectively competent by using an interpreter. But what happens when the interpreter is accused of being incompetent?

Dealing with the issue of the competence of an interpreter or translator is much simpler if trial hasn’t started yet. It’s a good idea to ask the court to permit a brief supplemental examination before deciding whether to appoint the interpreter. See Cal Rules of Ct, Standards of J Admin 2.11(b)(3). Interpreters may be somewhat suspect if they haven’t filed an oath with the clerk showing their certification under the Government Code. See Evid C §751(d).

If you believe that a prospective interpreter or translator lacks the necessary competency or qualifications, be proactive and object to the appointment before the interpreter is permitted to act. People v Aranda (1986) 186 CA3d 230, 237.

If an interpreter’s competence becomes an issue after he or she begins interpreting, object as soon as the issue arises. If a party questions the interpreter’s qualifications, the court may hold an Evid C §402 preliminary fact hearing to determine whether the testimony may be admitted.

In the following short video clip, Judge Vernon Nakahara describes a somewhat humorous episode involving interpreter competency that occurred in his courtroom.

View the entire program with much more practical advice and anecdotes in CEB’s Handling Trial Objections, available On Demand. And learn more about dealing with incompetent witnesses of all types in CEB’s California Trial Objections, chapter 18.

Other CEBblog™ posts your may find useful:

© The Regents of the University of California, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

5 replies on “What to Do about an Incompetent Interpreter”

I am always appreciative when I read articles related to my profession. As an experienced certified interpreter I must comment concerning the oath on file, I have an oath on file in Los Angeles County and in Federal Court. However, I am hired to interpret in other counties and jurisdictions where I have to be placed under oath since I don’t have one on file. I am no less competent. My credentials can be easily confirmed by the badges issued to me and/or by an online search of the Judicial Council’s website.

As to the anecdote related by Judge Nakahara, it’s embarrassing, to say the least. Properly trained interpreters in ethics and courtroom decorum know that when they hear an error or misinterpretation the proper thing to do is to request a moment to speak to your colleague in private and have him or her correct it on the record. The judge may ask for a break so that the issue can be resolved outside the presence of the jury.

I encourage all counsel to take a proactive approach in qualifying an interpreter as certification alone does not make him or her an expert in the field.

Thank you for your article!

Esther M. Hermida
U. S. District Court
CA State Court
Certified Spanish Interpreter

I would like to support Ms Hermida’s view
that qualification alone does not make one to be the best court interpreter, intense training is essential.


Please allow me to confirm the comment made by Ms. Hermida. Certified interpreters do not necessarily have an oath on file in every county where we work. The proper way to check an interpreter’s certification status in our state (California) is to ask to see their interpreter badge and/or check that their certification status is listed as “active” on the website of the Judicial branch of California at

Add your comment to the blog post

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s