Preparing Witnesses with Limited English Proficiency

Any attorney or consultant who has prepped their fair share of witnesses understands that different witnesses present different challenges. Those challenges can depend on things as simple as their appearance, their willingness to make eye contact, their choice of words, and even their (lack of) sense of humor.

There are some nuanced challenges that require a more refined approach to preparing your witness. One example is preparing a witness who does not speak English very well, which is known as having Limited English Proficiency (LEP).

For attorneys and consultants who work with witnesses, it is important to keep in mind how the dynamic of working with LEP witnesses differs from the dynamic of working with witnesses who do not need translators.

The two charts below demonstrate how the use of interpreters changes the dynamic of testifying. In the Traditional Witness Dynamic, interpreters do not act as intermediaries between what the witness says and what the jurors hear.

In the LEP Witness Dynamic, the translation of the attorney’s question and the translation of the witness’s response become part of the path of communication to the jurors. While jurors may not understand the literal meaning of phrases in a different language, they still assess the witness’s demeanor when answering questions. The LEP witness’s voice and response style are still relevant for the jurors’ assessment of the witness’s credibility.


The preceding excerpts and graphics are from our article in the December 2015 issue of The Jury Expert. You can view the full article here.

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