Transcription to translation & beyond
Imagine you are an attorney, let’s say practicing criminal law. It doesn’t matter here whether you are counsel for the defense or the prosecution. You are working on a criminal case where the defendant faces serious consequences in the event of a conviction. Let’s also assume that the statements made by a witness during police investigation are crucial for the outcome of the case. Last but not least, to complete our trial scenario: unlike everyone else present in the courtroom, the witness does not speak English very well, so an accredited court interpreter will assist with the testimony.
That key witness is now on the stand during trial and it is your turn to question earlier statements, referring to a copy of the transcript. You ask the witness under oath a question about an essential issue that was also addressed during the earlier police interview to probe whether witness statements are consistent.
According to popular belief, trial lawyers don’t ask questions to which they don’t already know the answers. In this instance, the witness gives a fundamentally different answer, in apparent contradiction with the earlier statement. In such a situation, the text of the earlier statement might be presented to the witness to inquire about that contradiction, with a question such as: “Is it not true that in your statement [made on such-and-such date, in such-and-such place and circumstance] you said, and I quote: […] ?” The witness emphatically denies having made the earlier statement: “I have never said anything like that!”
The witness was truthful in his statement to police, a well as on the stand.
How can that be? Perhaps a more pertinent question here is: why would a court interpreter, i.e. the author of this article, address witness credibility? Let’s rewind to an earlier frame of our fictitious trial scene to unravel the mystery…