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Responding to Subpoena

Sample response to Interpreter question regarding duty to respond to subpoena.


An interpreter is covered by the attorney's cloak of privilege when interpreting and the attny is present. Here is my understanding of my duty as interpreter, if subpoenaed:


All communication when done in the presence of an attny is exempt from being discussed/testified to when subpoenaed.


Any other communication interpreted outside of the presence of an attny

(police interrogation, conversations with other court personnel, etc... can be

examined by the court.


ASL Legal interpreters make a practice of videotaping all Miranda warning

interpretations for inclusion in the court record in anticipation of an appeal

based on erroneous interpretation/waiver of rights.


I personally have brought my camera and tape and set it up for Mirandizing

in order to protect the client and myself by creating a record of the interpretation.


I personally have never been subpoenaed, but my anticipation is that I would answer truthfully under oath if subpoenaed.  I agree that interpretation is a complex cognitive task and can impact memory of even basic details.  It would also be fundamental to stress that our profession functions because of confidentiality.  Interpreters are put in a position of trust, often in intimate conversations and our reputation and ability to maintain work hinges on our ability to maintain strict confidentiality.


Here is an excerpt from the RID (Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf)  Standard Practice Paper: Interpreting in Legal Settings on this topic:



Potential Risks

Certain legal assignments, such as law enforcement interpreting, pose great risk for the interpreter who may be called as a witness later to defend their work in the interpreted assignment. As such, additional protections are typically instituted such as video taping the session, using consecutive interpreting principles and providing for the assistance of a credentialed deaf interpreter.



The interpreter is ethically obligated to prepare for all assignments, particularly legal and court assignments. To that end, interpreters will contact counsel or the hiring party and request to review pertinent documents to prepare to interpret accurately. Because interpreters are necessary for communication, sharing preparatory materials with them does not breach the attorney-client privilege. Interpreters are governed by strict rules regarding confidentiality and will not reveal information learned on an assignment, absent a court order or other legal mandate.

2 The interpreter in a law enforcement setting may be required to later testify about the interpreting assignment; whereas, the interpreter working in an attorney-client conference cannot, absent waiver of the privilege, be forced to testify about the interpreting assignment.


Articles by an attorney and interpreter (Carla Mathers) on this topic:


RID Code of Professional Conduct:   RE: Being subpoenaed:




Interpreters adhere to standards of confidential communication.

Guiding Principle:

Interpreters hold a position of trust in their role as linguistic and cultural facilitators of communication. Confidentiality is highly valued by consumers and is essential to protecting all involved. Each interpreting situation (e.g., elementary, secondary, and post-secondary education, legal, medical, mental health) has a standard of confidentiality. Under the reasonable interpreter standard, professional interpreters are expected to know the general requirements and applicability of various levels of confidentiality. Exceptions to confidentiality include, for example, federal and state laws requiring mandatory reporting of abuse or threats of suicide, or responding to subpoenas.

~Shelly Hansen CI/CT/SC:L

NAD-RID Code of Professional Conduct
  • Confidential communication
  • Professional skills and knowledge
  • Appropriate conduct
  • Respect for consumers
  • Respect for colleagues, interns, students
  • Ethical business practices
  • Ongoing professional development