The ACLU of Georgia, the ACLU, and the Legal Aid Society - Employment Law Center (LAS-ELC) filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Ling. v. State of Georgia, asserting that defendants with limited English proficiency (LEP) have a constitutional right to a court interpreter. The brief was submitted on behalf of Annie Ling, a Mandarin-speaker who was sentenced to 10 years in prison and five years probation after a trial without an interpreter to assist her. Because of her limited English, Ling did not understand that she had the option to plead guilty rather than going to trial and face a much longer sentence, and at the trial, she could not understand the testimony for or against her. Her own trial attorney admitted that because of her limited English skills, he could not properly communicate with her without an interpreter. However, he decided not to ask the court for an interpreter because he felt it would make the trial "take a lot longer" and make the jury "impatient."

Denying LEP individuals interpreters during criminal trials violates the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of due process under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as the Sixth Amendment rights of criminal defendants to confront witnesses, be present at their own trial and receive effective assistance of counsel. In addition, the brief argued, Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires the state of Georgia to provide competent interpretation services to all LEP individuals who come into contact with its court system.

Fortunately, the Georgia Supreme Court agreed with our reasoning, and vacated the Court of Appeals of Georgia's decision and remanded the case to the trial court for a new trial. In doing so, the Georgia Supreme Court properly recognized the importance of providing proper interpreter services in keeping with the guarantees of the Constitution and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

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