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Do I have the right to an interpreter?

Do you or someone you know speak a language other than English (including American Sign Language)? Do you or they have trouble understanding and speaking English? If you answered yes to these questions, you have a right to an interpreter if you have to go to court. Persons with limited English skills should tell court staff right away that they need an interpreter. Once the court knows an interpreter is needed, then the court must provide one.

On January 1, 2013, the Ohio Supreme Court began following Rule 88. With this rule, the court must provide certified interpreters who know how to interpret in civil and criminal court for non-English speakers. Not all bilingual persons are qualified to interpret in court; special skills are needed.

Other agencies that get federal funding must provide interpreters according to the law. Some of them are:

  • Hospitals;
  • Legal aid, public defender, prosecutor and law enforcement;
  • Public and charter schools;
  • Public housing authorities;
  • Federal agencies such as SSA, VA, and IRS;
  • State agencies such as Department of Job and Family Services, Child Support Enforcement Agency, and Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

If you ask for an interpreter in court or at these agencies and you do not get one, you should ask to speak with a supervisor or ask where you can file a complaint. If an interpreter is still not provided, you may file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) by sending a letter or using the DOJ's complaint form. In the letter or on the complaint form explain when and how they did not speak to you in your language or provide you an interpreter. Make a copy of the complaint or letter for your records. Send the complaint or letter to:

Federal Coordination and Compliance Section - NWB
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C.   20530

You may also contact the US Department of Justice at:

(888) 848-5306 - English and Spanish (ingles y español)
(202) 307-2222 (voice)
(202) 307-2678 (TDD)

This article was written by Legal Aid volunteer attorney John Kirn and appeared in The Alert: Volume 29, Issue 1. Click here to read the full issue.

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