Legal Interpreters in Rare Languages

Court Interpreter for Uncommon Turkic Language

We have previously discussed the importance of accurate Turkish translation and interpreting services by a dedicated and professional translation service when conducting business with Turkish companies. The Turkish language, a prominent member of the Turkic language family, can be one of the more complex languages to translate because of the many cultural nuances used in the language, as well as the wide variation of dialects spoken in different regions of the country. Using a translator not familiar with the specific dialect that is needed can make a critical difference in any civil litigation involving service contracts, depositions, employment agreements, and any other civil, commercial, or even criminal proceeding.

Turkmen Court Interpreter Services

The ability of a Turkmen court translator to understand the nuances of the Turkmen language, a lesser known member of the Turkic language family spoken in Turkmenistan and in parts of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, became a matter of constitutional due process for a criminal defendant in People v. Haydarov, B281565, 2019 WL 6242354 (Ct. App. 2d Dist. Cal., 11/22/2019). The issues confronted in the case demonstrate the importance of having an experienced court interpreter who is able to accurately interpret the distinguished dialects of the Turkmen language.

In Haydarov, the defendant, Merdan Haydarov, was convicted of second degree murder. Haydarov was from Turkmenistan but could speak some English. During the preliminary proceedings, the court appointed Haydarov a Russian interpreter. However, Haydarov claimed that he could not understand the Russian interpreter and that he needed a Turkmen interpreter.

The court appointed a Turkmen interpreter who was certified in the federal immigration courts, approved by the United States District Court, and provisionally certified in several state superior courts. The interpreter translated for Haydarov at ten different court proceedings between April 22 and December 2, 2014, including a two-day preliminary hearing, using both Turkmen and Uzbeki.

On December 9, 2014, the defense counsel requested that Haydarov be evaluated to assess his English comprehension, claiming that Haydarov was frustrated by “a barrier of communication” between him and the Turkmen interpreter because they spoke different Turkmen dialects. The court requested the defense counsel to “provide as much information as possible about Haydarov’s dialect” so that it could “‘locate an interpreter somewhere on the face of the planet to be able to assist him.’”

The defense counsel claimed that “‘language and interpretation difficulties ha[d] been an issue in Mr. Haydarov’s case since the day of his arrest.’” When Haydarov was arrested, he was interviewed by detectives in English. Haydarov also claimed that he could understand only about one out of every five words when using the Turkmen interpreter, who relied on a Turkmen vocabulary book to interpret. When another Turkmen interpreter could not be located, Haydarov requested to waive his right to an interpreter and proceed in English. However, recognizing the importance of competent interpreting service, the court ordered that another Turkmen interpreter be made available.

In April 2015, a second interpreter, who was originally from the same region of Turkmenistan as Haydarov, was located in the United States. She and Haydarov both spoke the Khorezmian dialect, which is used by those who live near the Uzbeki border and is the most unusual of all the Turkmen dialects.

A Hearing on the Right to an Interpreter

In June 2015, Haydarov motioned the court to dismiss his preliminary hearing on the grounds that he was denied “the assistance of ‘an interpreter who spoke the Turkmen language sufficiently for him to understand’ the testimony and ‘assist his counsel at the hearing.’”

An evidentiary hearing was conducted at which both interpreters testified, as well as a clinical psychologist. The first interpreter testified that he believed “Haydarov’s difficulties in understanding were due to regional variations in speech. . . . Also, Haydarov spoke a less formal version of Turkmen than [the first interpreter].” He also testified that he could communicate with Haydarov more effectively during interviews than in court proceedings because, during interviews, he could clarify meanings and use alternative words, but court hearings were conducted at a much faster pace that did not allow for the clarifications and context that Haydarov required.

The second interpreter testified that the first interpreter used a variety of Turkic languages that have different phonetics, intonation, and vocabulary. She testified that the language of the first interpreter did “‘not qualify as Turkmen,’ formal or informal” and that “because he was not a Turkmen, there was ‘no way he could speak Turkmen perfectly.’” Instead, when the second interpreter spoke to Haydarov, she used a different intonation than the first interpreter. She testified that although she could understand the other interpreter because of her diverse background, it would have been difficult for Haydarov to understand him.

The clinical psychologist testified that “Haydarov was unable to conduct an uninterrupted, completely comprehensive conversation in English without assistance” and that “[h]is understanding of English vocabulary was at a four-year-old level.”

Motion to Dismiss Is Denied, Leaving Few Options

The court denied Haydarov’s motion to dismiss the preliminary hearing. Without making any finding on whether the first interpreter was competent to translate Turkmen or whether Haydarov presented a valid complaint that he could not understand the interpreter, the court denied the motion because Haydarov spoke some English and “responded in seeming appropriate language. Words and Answers.”

The issue for the court then became how to proceed at trial. The second interpreter, whom Haydarov could understand, was not available for trial. As a result, the court offered two options to Haydarov—to proceed in English or with the first interpreter, whom Haydarov claimed he could not understand. Because Haydarov at least was able to communicate with the second interpreter outside of court, in preparation for trial, Haydarov opted to proceed in English rather than with an interpreter he could not understand. However, at the conclusion of the trial, Haydarov was convicted of second degree murder.

The Constitutional Right to an Interpreter

Haydarov appealed his conviction, claiming that the trial court’s failure to provide him with an adequate interpreter at the preliminary hearing and at trial violated his federal constitutional rights to due process, the effective assistance of counsel, the right to confront witnesses, the right to be present at trial, and the right to testify on his own behalf, as well as his California constitutional right to an interpreter.

Haydarov claimed that these purported errors required that his conviction be reversed. He claimed that forcing him to choose to proceed either in English or with an incompetent interpreter, whom he could not understand, was really leaving him with only one choice—to forfeit the use of an interpreter—and that this deprived him of his constitutional rights.

Forfeiting the Use of an Interpreter Held to be Harmless Error

The court recognized that Haydarov had a constitutional right to a competent interpreter at his preliminary hearing. However, even though the court never determined whether the first interpreter was competent, the court held that Haydarov’s comprehension of English was sufficient to “allow him to understand the nature of the proceedings and to intelligently participate in his defense.” The court further held that because Haydarov did not object to the adequacy of the first interpreter until after the preliminary hearing and nine other proceedings had transpired, he forfeited his right to claim a constitutional violation at the preliminary hearing.

Nevertheless, the court held that even though the trial court concluded that Haydarov’s grasp of the English language was substantial, it was not so substantial that he was not entitled to a competent interpreter at his trial. Despite this, however, the court held that the failure to provide Haydarov with a Turkmen interpreter who spoke his unusual dialect was harmless error because Haydarov was nevertheless able to “understand the proceedings and communicate effectively with counsel.” The court concluded:

[G]iven that Haydarov had a considerable grasp of the English language, the evidence at trial was not complex and was largely undisputed, and the services of a competent interpreter were offered to assist in trial preparation, . . . the fact an interpreter was not present at trial, even if error, was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

The court held that Haydarov’s lack of an interpreter at trial did not prejudice him or impact his defense in the outcome of the trial. Therefore, the court affirmed Haydarov’s conviction.

Do Not Forfeit Your Constitutional Right to a Competent Interpreter

The Haydarov case demonstrates, not just in the criminal context, but especially in the complicated context of civil litigation, that even the distinction between dialects of the same language can be critical to the effectiveness of a translation, from the very beginning of the litigation process to the very end. If you require translation services for a language with dialect variations, or if you are not completely satisfied with the competency of your current translation service to identify and accurately reflect the nuances of your language, contact All Language Alliance, Inc. immediately. Proceeding with translators who are not competent to correctly interpret dialectic differences can affect your case and your right to an interpreter at every stage of your litigation.

All Language Alliance, Inc. is available to provide legal interpreting and translating services you need, in any language, including rare, uncommon, exotic, and unusual languages and dialects. Our deposition interpreters provide face-to-face in-person deposition interpreting services, as well as interpreting for remote videodepositions and telephone depositions. Call us at 303-470-9555 to determine the legal interpreting services you need. You can also email us from our website at www.languagealliance.com to request legal interpreter and translator services for any language for depositions, pre-deposition prep meetings, arbitration, attorney-client meetings.

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