Lack of Interpreters Reminds California of Its Troubling Past


By Jose Medina

WOODLAND – Minh Quang Ly was called in for an arraignment hearing in Yolo County Superior Court, Department 1, last Friday—but an ever-increasing snafu brought the entire proceeding to a screeching halt.

Judge Peter Williams, who presided over the hearing, asked if Ly had an interpreter present.

Assistant Public Defender Lisa Lance then informed Judge Williams that they had not been able to get a hold of an interpreter and that this would be Ly’s third time in court without one.

With a disappointed tone in his voice, Judge Williams rescheduled a new arraignment hearing to take place on August 13 at 10 a.m. in Yolo Department 1 in hopes of a new interpreter to be able to assist Ly.

But the Ly case is indicative of the challenges California faces.

More than 40 percent of Californians speak a language other than English. It is reported that there are 220 different languages spoken in Los Angeles County. The different languages include Spanish, Mandarin, Tagalog, Urdu, Korean, Laotian, and Gujarati among many others.

California appears to be in dire need of being able to provide interpreters for every defendant so they can be afforded a speedy and just due process—that deficiency has an ugly past in the state.

In the late 1800s, California had various cases of Mexican defendants standing trial without Spanish interpreters. In these instances, Mexican defendants were unable to express their testimonies or present their side of the story while being prosecuted for suspected crimes.

This lack of communication invigorated rambunctious mobs to grab Mexican defendants out of the courtrooms in which they were standing trial, and execute them.

Judges and Mexican defendants were unable to understand each other, which led many judges to believe that Mexican defendants were guilty of the crimes—and once the judges believed Mexican defendants to be guilty, the judges were pressured into accepting the actions of the hostile mobs toward Mexican defendants.

Many Mexican defendants were given an unjust due process of law and lost their lives because of the lack of interpreters in the legal system.

Judicial historians note that, for someone to receive a just and speedy due process they must be able to fully understand the charges, their options, the process, and the laws being presented to them.

But, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult to garner the necessary interpreters. And defendants like Mr. Ly are experiencing justice delayed, which often becomes justice denied.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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