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Lawsuit Alleges the Failure to Provide Interpreters in North Carolina Is Illegal

Three advocacy groups have filed a lawsuit against North Carolina courts alleging that the court system is acting illegally by failing to provide interpreters for non-English speaking individuals. The Latin American Coalition, Muslim American Society and Vietnamese Society have jointly filed the lawsuit, requesting that the U.S. Department of Justice investigate the alleged discrimination.

North Carolina law currently requires the state to provide interpreters for defendants in criminal cases, including defendants fighting DWI charges and sex crime charges. The law does not, however, require the state to provide interpreters for non-English speakers in civil cases.

The issue of providing interpreters to all non-English speaking court participants is hotly debated, partly because of the cost that the state must pay to fund the interpreters. While it cost North Carolina approximately $2.7 million advocates say the state still is not legally providing enough interpreters.

President Obama issued an opinion warning states that do not provide interpreters for individuals in criminal defense and civil cases are in violation of the Civil Rights Act. North Carolina officials, however, dispute whether they are in violation of the federal law.

Many advocates argue that the state isn't doing enough to protect non-English speakers in court. Many documents and notices aren't translated, making it very difficult for some who navigate the North Carolina court system. If the three groups win their lawsuit against North Carolina, it's likely that there will be greater access to interpreters for all in the court system.

Source: The Sun News "Absence of Interpreters is Illegal, Advocates Say," Franco Ordonez, 5/23/2011

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