CARSON CITY, Nev. — Nevada, after more than a decade of trying, will adopt a nationally standardized program this week for testing and certifying courtroom interpreters in foreign languages.
The move, which will first focus on Spanish interpreters, is designed to give people who appear in court a better understanding of the legal process.
It also could help avoid mistakes in rulings based on flawed translations — such as an April 2000 case in Ohio, in which a murder conviction was overturned after the court interpreter’s qualifications to translate for a Spanish-speaking defendant were challenged.
The state program includes membership in the National Consortium for State Court Interpreters, an organization that provides training and tests to certify interpreters, as well as continuing education for certified interpreters.
Nevada is the 28th state to join the consortium, which was formed in 1995. Clark County currently has the only system in Nevada for testing interpreters.
“We’ve been trying to get this approved for some time, and see this as a victory for equal access to the justice system,” said Beth Mamman, management analyst at the state Administrative Office of the Courts which will oversee the program.
Mamman said that various attempts at creating a statewide standard were brought before the Legislature since 1989, but the lack of a national organization to set guidelines on tests and training thwarted the efforts.
Once the national consortium was founded, it took until the 2001 Legislature to convince lawmakers to commit to the idea.
“People may not have thought Nevada was big enough to warrant such a step and the money it costs,” Mamman said.
The program will cost the state $145,000 this year and $112,000 next year.
The 2000 Census helped make the case for the program, showing a growing population of people who speak other languages, Mamman said.
“The numbers were so compelling, and we know what risk courts and parties are at in not having this program in place — especially if we don’t want Nevada to be the kind of case everybody cites,” Mamman said.