You are a juror on a serious criminal case in the United States.

One of the witnesses, a tourist, has no knowledge of English.

Questions and answers for this witness (both direct and cross) are translated into and out of the witness' native language in the court.

You, the juror, happen to be fluent in both English and the witness' native language.

To the extent that the translation process is imperfect, you thus have a slightly different understanding of the witness' testimony than your fellow, unilingual jurors.

Can you use this added understanding in reaching a decision in the case? In trying to persuade other jurors to share your decision?

Or should jury selection eliminate this possibility?

(Vague recollection of an early Law and Order episode with this a a plot element...

1 Answer 1


You will most likely be instructed to not share or even use your own translation of the testimony. In California, the instruction on translations is:

Some testimony may be given in [insert name or description of language other than English]. An interpreter will provide a translation for you at the time that the testimony is given. You must rely on the translation provided by the interpreter, even if you understand the language spoken by the witness. Do not retranslate any testimony for other jurors. If you believe the court interpreter translated testimony incorrectly, let me know immediately by writing a note and giving it to the (clerk/bailiff).

In People v. Cabrera 230 Cal.App.3d 300, it was ruled that supplying a competing translation is juror misconduct, see also People v. Marshall, 50 Cal. 3d 907 (it is misconduct for a juror to inject expertise into the deliberations, referring to the fact that a juror "informed the jury ... [that he had a] background in law enforcement, and that the lack of evidence did not mean the defendant has no criminal background, because juvenile records are automatically sealed at 18 years of age."

Florida has a similar instruction:

The evidence you are to consider is only that provided through the official court [interpreters] [translators]. Although some of you may know (language used), it is important that all jurors consider the same evidence. Therefore, you must accept the English [interpretation] [translation]. You must disregard any different meaning.

If, however, during the testimony there is a question as to the accuracy of the English interpretation, you should bring this matter to my attention immediately by raising your hand. You should not ask your question or make any comment about the interpretation in the presence of the other jurors, or otherwise share your question or concern with any of them. I will take steps to see if your question can be answered and any discrepancy resolved. If, however, after such efforts a discrepancy remains, I emphasize that you must rely only upon the official English interpretation as provided by the court interpreter and disregard any other contrary interpretation.

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