Why Certified Translations of Evidentiary Documents Matter
We’ve blogged about the importance of Apostille translation services for documents to be used abroad. In civil cases, an affidavit or other form of evidence are often submitted in a foreign language. The fact finder – whether a judge or jury – is not responsible for attempting to understand information in a foreign language. Instead, the court usually requires this legal information to be translated into English. Providing a certified translation of foreign evidence by a professional translation service can often have a direct impact on how the case plays out.
Legal language translation of foreign-language materials along with technical document translation services can often have a significant impact on the result of a case because the courts may infer certain presumptions. These presumptions can often make all the difference in a case. For example, in the case of United States v. Franco, 136 F.3d 622, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California held that the trial court did not commit a reversible error by having the jury read all of the transcripts of audio recordings that were in a foreign language. In the case, the juries had read the transcripts in court as well as in the jury room when they were deliberating. The court went a step further and stated that it is not proper to give the jurors instructions, similarly to the rule in cases involving English audio recordings. It reasoned that juries that included bilingual jurors could be negatively affected by such an instruction. The trial court’s instruction was that the jury could not disagree with a translated transcript of the recordings when the accuracy of the translation was not disputed in the case.
Authentication of Foreign Language Evidence
In a civil case, the plaintiff bears the burden of proof in a case. Therefore, the plaintiff must be careful to provide evidence that the court will accept as such. If it fails to meet the requirements to authenticate foreign language evidence, such evidence may be stricken from the record. In the case of Jack v. Trans World Airlines, 854 F. Supp. 654, the plaintiff brought a lawsuit against an airline responsible for a flight traveling from New York to San Francisco. The plane had experienced an aborted takeoff, crash and fire. While all of the passengers survived the event, many suffered minor injuries. Many more were traumatized by the event. Many of the plaintiffs filed lawsuits in San Francisco Superior Court and the airline removed these cases to federal court. The plaintiffs in several of the actions had submitted a number of various affidavits. However, the trial court found these affidavits defective because they did not specifically state that the person making them were declaring that they could be held punishable under the penalty of perjury in the United States. Additionally, the affidavits did not state that the information was true and correct. As a result, the trial court struck 24 such affidavits from the record. The court demonstrated extreme leniency by allowing the plaintiffs to replace these affidavits with others that would not be defective.
The plaintiffs resubmitted the same affidavits and only changed the information on the first page to specifically reference penalty of perjury under the laws of the United States. They did not get a new signature to confirm this change. Additionally, the documents were not re-executed. The court held that witness testimony that was given in the form of a written document in a foreign language must be properly authenticated. Additionally, any interpretation must be shown to be accurate as stated by a competent translator. The affidavits submitted also showed no statement regarding the purported translator’s certification or knowledge. As a result, the airline won its motion for summary judgment and the plaintiff’s motion was denied.
When a plaintiff has evidence that may help his or her case, is it imperative to make sure that this evidence is properly authenticated. In the case of foreign language translations, this usually requires providing a certified translation of the document in question. This is especially important when the witness is not available to testify and only has his or her written word to represent his or her thoughts, perceptions or memory on the matter. When in court, a professional interpreter can provide an interpretation of spoken words. In contrast, a translator is not usually on hand to provide such on the spot translations. This is why it is important to complete this step during the discovery stage of litigation so that the foreign language evidence can be in its proper form before being submitted to the court.