Preparing Witnesses Who Have Limited English Proficiency (LEP)

 Preparing Witnesses Who Have Limited English Proficiency (LEP)Any attorney who has gone through witness preparation understands that witnesses interviewing is not as simple as it seems. Cases can make or break on a single witness, so it’s important to prep them for trial. Unfortunately, individuals with Limited English Proficiency can be more difficult to prepare. They may not speak English very well and these witnesses may have difficulty making eye contact, answering questions, or even testifying in court.

You will eventually run into a witness that has LEP at some point in your career. They will speak little to no English and may require an interpreter on hand in court. The first thing you will need to figure out is if there is a requirement for an interpreter during preparation and during testifying. Ask them if they would like an interpreter present and be sure that your witness understands the question when they say yes or no. Generally, if they say yes, that’s the case and you should go ahead with that.

An interpreter will help make sure that the greatest amount of accuracy possible will be accomplished, during a witness’s testimony. If you can ask your witness a couple of questions and they answer competently, decide together whether the witness might benefit from an interpreter. The court system in most states will provide interpreters if the witness or party requires one. A witness needs an interpreter if they cannot understand the English language on their own to a sufficient extent or cannot express him or herself in English so that the court, counsel, and jury can understand them.

Make sure that the witness has time to understand what testifying through an interpreter will be like by walking them through it. Inconsistencies in testimony from misunderstandings can leave the witness exposed to trial impeachment. Correcting a misunderstanding via an interpreter is much more difficult. It’s like trying to turn bread that has turned to toast back into bread again. Better to avoid it if possible. The witness may require a bit of practice, but it is worth the effort to establish a rhythm, flow, and rapport with a witness than to neglect them and hope it turns out for the best.

Putting an effort into preparing your witness will be effective in the end. Asking them questions will allow you to figure out what does not translate to them and have them understand the structure of what he will be questioned about. They are still very intelligent and clever; the language barrier can be overcome with the help of an interpreter. By going over everything, they will understand each question and how to explain themselves, with no errors in translation occurring to trip them up.

Encourage your witness to make eye contact and pay attention to the interpreter when they are interpreting the questions. This will help them remember the question, process it, and answer clearly. Prepping a witness who speaks limited English is the smart thing to do. Don’t waste all your hard work on a case by cutting corners and not taking the steps to prep and get to know a witness that is LEP. Your case could depend on it.

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