Can Spanish-Speaking Courts Speed Up Trials in The Bronx and Save Money?

A recent article by journalist Terena Bell makes a compelling case that holding trials in Spanish in The Bronx and elsewhere not only will speed up trials but also save the State of New York over $4 million dollars a year on contracted interpreters alone.

According to Bell’s article in Quartz, millions more are spent on staff translators as well staff which manages these translators.

But this isn’t just about saving money but also a social justice issue and the constitutional right to a speedy trial as stipulated in the 6th amendment.

Right now, that is not the case when defendants do not speak English because there is a jury shortage in The Bronx that further pushes these cases back.

There are also issues where translators aren’t always accurate but according to Jodi Morales, an attorney with The Bronx Defenders interviewed by Bell, this is something that is rare.

But when errors do happen, a jury has to go by what the interpreter said as per instructions by the judge. It doesn’t matter if the jury understands the language and knows that what was said was different than what the interpreter said, they have to dismiss all of that in their heads and go by an incorrect interpretation.

Bell  goes on and writes:

“If a sense of justice isn’t enough to persuade the courts that trials in Spanish are a good idea, maybe money will be. This fiscal year, New York State Unified Court System plans to spend $4,031,755 on contract interpreters. Millions more will go toward salaries and benefits for 300+ employed interpreters and additional staff in the courts’ Office of Language Access, which manages interpreting. Then there’s the expense of overly-lengthy trials: Court reporter overtime, defendants left in holding at $325 a day, and other ancillary costs budgeted up to $7.5 million this year. At a certain point, Spanish-language trials aren’t a question of social justice. They’re a matter of cold, hard cash.

Money aside, Morales says, “It’s just so interesting that the system doesn’t reflect the community at this stage…We have to make our justice system more accessible to the people who keep finding themselves engulfed by it.”

Read the entire article over at Quartz, it’s a great read on how we can take yet another step towards criminal justice reform.

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Ed García Conde

Ed García Conde is a life-long Bronxite who spends his time documenting the people, places, and things that make the borough a special place in the hopes of dispelling the negative stereotypes associated with The Bronx. His writings are often cited by mainstream media and is often consulted for his expertise on the borough's rich history.