Thursday, March 22, 2012

interpreters - oath - Rules of Evidence - Rule 604


Rule 604. Interpreter


[An interpreter is subject to the provisions of Rule 702 (relating to qualification as an expert) and Rule 603 (relating to the administration of an oath or affirmation).]

An interpreter must be qualified and must give an oath or affirmation to make a true translation.


[This rule adopts the substance of F.R.E. 604; the only change is the explicit reference to Pa.Rs.E. 702 and 603, rather than the general reference to “the provisions of these rules” in F.R.E. 604. The need for an interpreter whenever a witness’ natural mode of expression or the language of a document is not intelligible to the trier of fact is well settled. 3 Wigmore, Evidence § 911 (Chadbourn rev. 1970). Under Pa.R.E. 604, an interpreter is treated as an expert witness who must have the necessary skill to translate correctly and who must promise to do so by oath or affirmation.

Pa.R.E. 604 is consistent with those Pennsylvania statutes providing for the appointment of interpreters for the deaf. See 42 Pa.C.S. § 7103 (deaf party in a civil case); 2 Pa.C.S. § 505.1 (deaf party in hearing before Commonwealth agency); 42 Pa.C.S. § 8701 (deaf defendant in criminal case); see also Commonwealth v. Wallace, 433 Pa. Super. 518, 641 A.2d 321 (1994) (applying § 8701). Under each of these statutes, an interpreter must be “qualified and trained to translate for or communicate with deaf persons” and must “swear or affirm that he will make a true interpretation to the deaf person and that he will repeat the statements of the deaf person to the best of his ability.”

There is little statutory authority for the appointment of interpreters, but the practice is well established. See Pa.R.Crim.P. 231(B) (authorizing presence of interpreter while investigating grand jury is in session if supervising judge determines necessary for presentation of evidence); 51 Pa.C.S. § 5507 (under regulations prescribed by governor, convening authority of military court may appoint interpreters). The decision whether to appoint an interpreter is within the discretion of the trial court. See Commonwealth v. Pana, 469 Pa. 43, 364 A.2d 895 (1976) (holding that it was an abuse of discretion to fail to appoint an interpreter for a criminal defendant who had difficulty in understanding and expressing himself in English).]

In 2006, legislation was enacted pertaining to the certification, appointment, and use of interpreters in judicial and administrative proceedings for persons having limited proficiency with the English language and persons who are deaf. See 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 4401-4438; 2 Pa.C.S. §§ 561-588. Pursuant to this legislation, the Administrative Office of the Pennsylvania Courts (“AOPC”) has implemented an interpreter program for judicial proceedings. See 204 Pa. Code §§ 221.101-.407. Information on the court interpreter program and a roster of court interpreters may be obtained from the AOPC web site at

Adopted May 8, 1998, effective October 1, 1998; Comment revised March 29, 2001, effective April 1, 2001; amended March 21, 2012, effective April 20, 2012 .