Posted on October 13, 2004

Conyers Judge Cracking Down On English Interpreters

AP, Oct. 10

CONYERS, Ga. — A Rockdale County judge is frustrated with the high cost of interpreters and said he will start requiring proof that defendants cannot speak English because some people are pretending not to be fluent just to delay criminal proceedings.

Sidney Nation, a Rockdale County Superior Court judge, said he will start having formal hearings on the need for an interpreter because his public defenders’ office has exceeded its $2,500 budget for interpreters.

“Some individuals indicate they cannot speak English, and they are simply utilizing that as a way in which they hope to delay their case. The court will no longer allow that to happen,” Nation told the Rockdale Citizen.

A case in August involving Vietnamese defendants required four interpreters in the courtroom during the plea proceedings, two of which were paid for by the state. Nation ultimately determined that three of the individuals could speak English. Two of the individuals had actually graduated from American high schools.

For the plea proceedings involving the Vietnamese defendants, which lasted less than an hour, the interpreters cost $514.38.

Non-English speaking defendants, especially those who are in the country illegally, have become an increasing burden on the ability of the court to function, according to Nation.

“This is turning into a crushing problem,” said Nation. “The judicial system is absolutely breaking down as a result of the court not being able to handle its business because of the inability to communicate.”

While the majority of Rockdale County cases involving illegal residents who require interpreters are Hispanic, Nation said the problem was not about any particular group or nationality, but rather a legal issue.

“The 14th Amendment calls for all persons to be entitled to due process, not just those who are citizens,” said Nation. “You cannot provide due process unless you can communicate, and this means the cost of handling these cases will be an increasing burden on the taxpayer.”

The judge called for tougher immigration enforcement from the federal government.

“The problem would not exist to the extent it does if the federal government would do its job of enforcing the law,” said Nation. “The federal government is picking and choosing what laws they want to enforce, and the result is a terrible burden on the local infrastructure. We are required to spend an enormous amount of resources on people who should not be here and have, in fact, broken the law in order to be here.”