MOBILE, AL-When there's a language barrier in a court, the last words anyone who advocates justice wants to hear are "lost in translation." But that's a mounting concern in courtrooms across the country as non-English speaking immigrants flock to the U.S. In jurisdictions where a growing number of defendants speak another language, there's some anxiety about ensuring that adequate translation services are provided, and that all parties-particularly the interpreter and the defendant-clearly hear and understand every word of the proceedings.
Until recently, that kind of problem was prevalent in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama in Mobile. Even though the court had been using electronic courtroom capabilities that brought an off-site translator into some courtrooms via a phone connection, sound and connection quality were not optimal.
"The key to using phone-based interpreting is having a well-honed sound system that uses good, solid conferencing equipment to get the job done," said Jeff Reinert, the court's operations manager. "If the interpreter can't hear what's going on, or has to keep asking for clarification, it makes everything more difficult."
The backbone of the court's new technology solution is a new-generation digital audio processing, mixing, and routing system from Lectrosonics combined with advanced teleconferencing equipment. Installed in six of eight courtrooms so far, the digital system-consisting of Lectrosonics DM1612 digital audio processors combined with Lectrosonics DMTH4 digital telephone hybrid processors to integrate teleconferencing-delivers improved audio quality and ease of use. The technology allows teleconferencing and courtroom microphone audio to be processed, mixed and routed to the courtroom's PA system digitally.
With the Lectrosonics digital solution operating, a court session involving an interpreter is initiated by the interpreter dialing in to the system via the DMTH4 hook up. Using one line to communicate with the defendant in his or her language through a headset worn by the defendant, and another to translate back into English for the court through the PA system, the translator is able to readily track dialogue as if he or she were in the courtroom in person. In turn, courtroom participants are assured of hearing everything, and having everything they say through microphones conveyed to the interpreter and defendant.