All posts by witch


Were you ever cold enough to be tempted to steal a pair of socks?  I met someone who was, and many others in similar situations.  The way different stores deal with shoplifters varies wildly.  At my local grocery store, the manager simply has the person return the item and warns them that they are not allowed back into the store.  Only if they are caught again does he inform the police.  I was told he has very few repeat offenders, usually the chronically needy or people with mental health issues.

For some misdemeanor offenses such as property damage, shoplifting and even some car accidents, the criminal charge may be dropped through an alternative called a compromise of misdemeanor.  In effect, the person who causes the damage pays for it with money to the victim of the crime (the store, property owner or car owner).  The idea is that the victim has received satisfaction, so there is no societal need for further punishment.  The prosecutor monitors these cases and once all the money is paid, the charges are usually reduced to something minor, or even dropped.

This kind of idea is not unique to the United States.  In several countries a person accused of a crime can pay money instead of going to jail.  It may be a formal procedure.  You might be sentenced to  thirty days OR a thousand dollars, for example.  In other areas, the payment may be informal.  You pay someone off or make a donation to a fund and let’s forget this ever happened.  In any case, I have interpreted for many defendants who ask if they can “just pay” instead of being prosecuted.

This adds to the confusion when shoplifters of very low-cost items are told by the store guard that they can pay to be let off.  One of the major so-called charities in our area is well known in the court system for having a large private security force policing their stores of donated items.  They then catch shoplifters and have them sign a “civil agreement” to pay usually a few hundred dollars in “damages” to the store – while giving back the items they may have stolen, which are usually worth a couple dollars.

In the cases where I have interpreted, there is a very consistent story.  A poor person tries to shoplift an item.  The store security catches them and takes them to an office.  They have to give back the item.  They are photographed.  They have to show their identification.  They are told they cannot leave.  Then they are offered what sounds like a compromise of misdemeanor.

The guard explains to the shoplifter that if she agrees to pay a special fee to the store of several hundred dollars, the shoplifter and the store can sign an agreement, and that will “settle the case”.  The shoplifter will then call around to friends and family, desperate to stay out of jail and avoid possible deportation for having tried to steal a donated item worth a couple dollars.  Their loved ones show up over the next few hours and hand over cash.  End of story, and lesson learned?  Well, no.  Because in this particular charity, the security guard (or loss prevention officer) then calls the police and has the shoplifter arrested anyway.

No, I am not a fan of the Five Finger Discount and I don’t think that what’s mine is mine and what’s yours in mine.  But I do think the punishment should be more commensurate with the crime.  I don’t know why this huge charity store chooses to deal with shoplifting by pressing the person to pay hundreds of dollars, photographing them, taking the items back, trespassing them (with a trespass order) having them cough up what for them and their loved ones is a small fortune, then calling the police on them after all.  In addition to all that, shoplifters are now ordered to go to a class that is intended to teach them about the impact of shoplifting on “our” community.

I was so surprised the first time I heard the story along the above lines.  I thought it was an anomaly until I had heard it a few dozen times.  Some days I would hear five or six stories about this same situation playing out in the same store on the calendar where I interpret for shoplifting.  It has been a while so I don’t know if the policy has changed.  I hope so.

One attorney was asking the client in the jail holding area why he had stolen the particular item that led to his arrest.  It was documented in the case file as a pair of wool socks for 99 cents.  There was a photo attached – a used pair of wool socks.

“So why did you steal them?” the attorney questioned.

“Well you see I am homeless – I sleep in the streets.  And my feet get wet and then I am so cold. I even got bronchitis.  The clinic doctor told me I need to stay warm or I will get pneumonia.  And I have to be able to work.  That’s why I’m here.  I can’t afford to be sick.  Then one of my buddies told me that wool socks, socks made of wool from sheep, stay warm even when they are wet.  That’s why I was hoping to get a pair of wool socks.  But I only had the dollar and it wasn’t enough for the tax and I guess I was tempted so I just put them in my backpack and then I got arrested and they took the socks back. ”

This particular young man was sometimes in a shelter and sometimes on the street. He had no family in the area and had illusions about how easy it would be to get work in this area without papers or language skills.  He described himself as a hard worker.  His friends had put together the 250 dollars that the charity demanded for what he thought was his release.  He was feeling bad that his friends would now have less money to send to their families – especially since it didn’t really help him.

The sock stealing worker kept saying he knew he had done wrong, and he wanted to tell the judge so.  And then explain about his wet feet, and the temptation, and that he knew he shouldn’t have done it, but he was still hoping for mercy.  He was hoping so much that the ultimate punishment for trying to get a pair of wool socks would not end up being jail and then deportation.  He still owed the coyote several thousand dollars for helping his cross the border, and he wasn’t sure what might happen if he got deported and couldn’t pay.  He seemed more bewildered than anything else.  He was trying to make sense of something that makes so very little sense to me.

I am not an economist and I do not claim that I can place a monetary value on everything that happens around me.  But as a human being, I just wonder how useful it is to arrest poor people for trying to get things like a donated pair of used socks and then hold up their friends and family for a couple hundred dollars.  Follow that by having the taxpayers pay a several thousands dollars in court costs on each case by the time you add up the cost of lawyers, judges, probation and the rest.

I doubt many of us donate our clothing expecting it to be used as a lure to extort money from the poor.  Could we possibly have more clothing banks where  folks with good clothes could donate more directly in service of the poor?  This may be possible through our food banks.  I plan to be more thoughtful about where I donate in future.

Some cases stay with you.  I never put on a pair of wool socks without thinking of that young, hopeful, bewildered man.  And the millions of others who are in similar circumstances.  I hope  for the sake of all of us, that we can reach a less brutalizing global economy within our lifetime.

PS: Quite a few readers contacted me to ask if the store chain in question is a for-profit.  No.  It is a charity.  Do your research.


I have a  touching memory regarding criminal intent.  My mother was getting milk for my two very young children.  My son grabbed eagerly at the glass and dropped it on the kitchen floor.  My mother began to scold him vehemently, as she had done with us.  She meant well – this was how she had been trained and she was trying to make sure the grandchildren turned out decent.  “How could you be so careless?  Shame on you!”

I was in the next room, deciding whether to come into the kitchen, when I heard the equally vehement voice of my three-year-old daughter, coming to baby brother’s defense, more eloquently than I could have.   So I just sat smiling to myself and listening.  I could see my daughter through the door with her hands on her hips and a very serious face.

“Mormor!  You cannot get mad at him for a mistake!  It is an accident.  That is our rule!  You are not ALLOWED to get mad at someone for making a mistake!  It’s OKAY to make a mistake.  That is an accident!”

My mom repeated several versions of why my son was deserving at least of a good scolding.  She talked about him spilling.  You cannot just pour milk on the floor and expect to get away with it!  What is the world coming to?  Milk doesn’t grow on trees!  It was a sort of a due caution argument, leaning toward negligence even.  Would a more reasonable one-year-old in his position have exercised more caution and avoided the spill?  Or was it, as his young defender argued, simply an accident with no malintent, and thus unpunishable?

My son quite wisely and precociously took the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution and said nary a word.  As a young philosopher, he was fairly certain that a second glass of milk would eventually be forthcoming.  He was mellow enough to wait it out, and let older and wiser people make the arguments for each side.

My mother explained at length the many reasons why my son was wrong to spill his milk.  She even mentioned the societal consequences – what if everybody, she posited, went around spilling their milk and throwing food on the ground?  What the heck would we eat then?  We would all starve!  It was the floodgate argument, so common in the courtroom.  If we allow this, then all hell will break loose and our society will float off its underpinnings.  Nothing less than anarchy will be the result.

My daughter simply repeated each time, firmly and without wavering: “We cannot get in trouble for an accident.  That is our family rule!”

There was some muttering on my mother’s part, and my son had to sit at the table to receive his second glass, but in the end, Mom was unable to persuade her young audience that there had been criminal intent, and so she could not prevail against our family rule .  You cannot get punished for doing something on accident.

This is not a rule I made up for the benefit of my children.  It is actually the law.  There are several levels of criminal intent.  Accident is not one of them.  The following is a basic summary, which will vary from state to state.

INTENT is when you act with the objective or purpose to accomplish a result which constitutes a crime:

 You did it on purpose.

KNOWINGLY is when you are aware of facts or circumstances that result in a crime as defined by statute, or when you have information that would lead a reasonable person in the same situation to that conclusion:

You either knew, or you should have known.

RECKLESS  is when you know of and disregard a substantial risk that a wrongful act may occur, when such disregard is unreasonable:

You knew there was a risk and didn’t care.

CRIMINAL NEGLIGENCE is when you fail to be aware of a substantial risk that a wrongful act may occur where it is unreasonable to be unaware:

You should have known there was a risk.

ACCIDENT is when an eager little fellow grabs at a glass of milk and it slips out of his hands.  This, my friends, is not a crime.

My daughter and my mother had a very close and beautiful relationship that lasted until my mother’s dying day.  I believe it was cemented on the day of the milk accident.  Not just because my mother could see that my daughter cared about fairness and justice, and was willing to fight for the (at that tender age) voiceless.  But also because my mother could listen to a young child and discuss this issue as equals.  What an act of kindness!

I think the fact that I came in and mopped the floor helped my mother to really hear the argument that many people in the general public cannot seem to grasp – an accident is not criminally punishable by law or by Grandma.  There has to be some level of intent to turn an accident into a crime.




Let’s talk about burglary.  I know you think you know what it means. Someone breaking into your house to steal your things.  Right and wrong.  It means that and yet so much more.  In my state code, a person is guilty of residential burglary if, with intent to commit a crime against a person or property therein, the person enters or remains unlawfully in a dwelling.

Why does this matter?  Because the elements of a crime, as written into code, form the very basis of what the government has to prove in order for a person to be convicted of a crime.  For burglary, the government does not have to prove that you stole anything.  They do not even have to prove that you intended to steal anything.

They have to prove that at a time and place within their jurisdiction, you entered OR remained unlawfully in a dwelling (with criminal intent).  This means that you could have been invited over for dinner and then simply stayed after you were told to leave.  This may come as a surprise to many daters (not ALL – don’t get mad at me!) but you are actually NOT allowed to stay as long as you wish at someone’s home, simply because you had been invited over.  You are there by the permission of the owner or resident, and that permission can be revoked at any time.  Including when you start to get creepy, or midnight rolls around.

In addition to proving that you entered or remained unlawfully in a dwelling, the government needs to prove that you intended to commit a crime against a person or property.  That is an awfully broad definition.  It could mean intending to steal something, of course.  But what about intending to assault someone?  Or to kidnap your own child in a custody dispute?  Vandalize the apartment?  Look through someone’s underwear drawer?  (I hope that’s a crime – it should be!)  Or stand naked in front of the window in a display to (perhaps more interested) neighbors across the way?  I submit that all of these various activities could fall within the definition of burglary.

So what does it mean to “intend” to commit a crime?  According to our code, intent to commit a crime means that a person does any act which is a substantial step toward the commission of that crime.  I think the key point in proving beyond a reasonable doubt that a person “acted”.  This means the person has to have actually DONE something in forwarding their criminal plan, and not just thought about it.

Otherwise, if we are going to be jailed or punished for our thoughts alone, we are all at very high risk indeed.  Especially the curious date who wants to look in the underwear drawer.  So please avoid taking a substantial step in that direction.




I do not have the fingers and toes to count up the times I have been casually asked to do something for free that I do professionally for pay.  It reminds me of a doctor-lawyer joke I heard from my Dad.

A doctor and a lawyer are out golfing one fine Friday morning.  The doctor tells the lawyer he has an ongoing problem and wonders if the lawyer has a similar one and might have some advice about how to handle it.  They are old college friends and often discuss their work.

“I cannot go to a kid’s birthday party or a soccer game without somebody coming up to me and asking me for free medical advice.  Some of them actually want me to go into the bathroom with them and take a look at their leg, or give them a second opinion about whether to have surgery.  Because they feel they know me socially, it doesn’t even cross their mind to pay me!  They just think they can casually ask me to work pro bono – for free!  Do you ever get that?”

The lawyer pauses mid-shot, and replies in the affirmative.  “Yes, I do.  Quite often.  Simple answer: send them a bill.  It won’t happen twice.”

A short while later, the lawyer  excuses herself to make a quick business call, and they resume their friendly game, chatting and enjoying the beautiful day.

They finish their game and go back to their respective offices.   When the doctor arrives, he sees a new note in his inbox – it is a bill from his friend the lawyer.  Ha ha!

I was awakened around 6:30 a.m. by my phone buzzing with a new message.  It was someone asking me if I could do a translation for a friend of theirs – “pro bono, of course”.   It should be of interest to me, as I am socially engaged and care about the ethnic language community in which I work.  So I shouldn’t have any problem working for free.  Oh, and the translation is needed today.  No joke.

I have done my share of pro bono work on cases such as torture, political prisoners, domestic violence, human trafficking, immigration, genocide, post-war truth commissions and other cases where I feel that someone’s life circumstances need to be communicated.  I have also been paid, when money was available, to translate for human rights commissions and interpret in these kinds of cases.  So it is not that I feel that I should work for free as a general rule.  It is simply that I am willing to contribute to the community when there truly is a need.  I think all of us who have had the privilege to train into a specific field should consider giving back to the community and helping others.  This, however, does not mean that we work for free for the private gain of those who don’t understand that we are professionals.

I looked up the person needing this crack of dawn translation.  The specific project for which she needs help is something in which she filmed immigrants.  There was no mention on the website of their being paid or having received any gain from her project.  On the contrary, it looked like a for-profit venture with money going to the person wanting my free help.

Based on the prices published on the website, this was a project for which the person is asking for over $100,000.   There was no mention of her donating back to the community any portion of her gains.  Per the website, the work appears to have been done several years ago, but it apparently just now occurred to her that some of her public relations related to her project should be in the target language.  It shouldn’t take too long – I should be able to just do it this morning.  Pro bono, of course.

These are the facts as I understood them.  There could be more to the story.  There usually is.  But as it was presented to me I couldn’t help wondering, why should  I do this for free?  And I want to bring this issue up to the interpreter community, regardless of the specifics of this particular case.  Because these kinds of situations arise over and over again.  I posit that we should put some thought into what pro bono means to us and what unpaid labor means to our profession.  Pro bono and unpaid labor are not interchangeable terms.

I am not so much offended by my busy friend who would have done it for free herself, perhaps as an act of friendship, and therefore makes a leap of faith that her colleagues would not mind doing it.  But I am offended that her friend who has a project for sale for a substantial amount of money would presume that language services have no monetary value and that language professionals – our mutual friend included – should be at her beck and call and willing to perform a rush job on a weekday – for no pay at all.

Where does this idea come from, that we should work for free?  And what can we do to respond?  I can only think of one word.  No.

Professionals, tradespeople, caregivers, and all workers should be paid for our services unless we are offering to work for free as a gift to the community.  Pro bono doesn’t mean unpaid labor.  It is actually Latin and means “for the good” (of the community).  It is not an excuse to take our services for granted.  There are plenty of people who are truly vulnerable and deserve our precious free time in order to help society reach toward justice and access for all.  Interpreters, let us help train those who can afford our services that what we do has a monetary value.  Our unpaid labor does not benefit the community, but simply harms our profession.



In my state, when a couple is getting divorced, they must attend mediation before they can take their case to trial.  One view claims that this is an inexpensive way to resolve disputes rather than clogging up the courts with what should be a private matter between two contracting parties.  The only exception to this are cases of domestic violence and abuse of children, where there is such a power differential and so much pain that there is simply no fair way to mediate.

For the rest of us. as much as we would like to have the judge in the sky who can make things fair and right, and give us back a shred of our lost dignity, if not our wholeness, we must first go through the painful process of “giving in” on all sorts of items where we really long to be right and vindicated.  My experience with divorcing couples who have stopped talking is that each one weaves a web of reasons why they should get what they want out of the divorce.  Because the other person has ruined their life in some way.  Each has lost things that they cannot get back and they do not want to lose one more thing in the divorce.

Years ago, mediation would take place in a single room, and it was almost impossible to come to any resolution, because the very sight of each other was a trigger for a flood of painful emotions, fear, rage, indignation, and a great desire to remind the other party of how they had failed.  You are the one who… (fill in the blank based on what you have been telling yourself since the separation).  I sympathize, because we all have the stories we live, the stories we create in which we are the heroines and victims of our own lives.  We can all see the painful places where our partners let us down, betrayed us, and even ruined our lives, if it comes to that.  And it is much easier to see how others should change or give in.

Some years back now, a wise decision was made that seems to have vastly improved the chances of reaching resolution via mediation.  Separate rooms.  The parties come to the court at the same time.  They are sent to different rooms.  There is one mediator who is highly trained, and very calm.  She is an absolute expert on keeping parties on track. And a master negotiator. And best of all, neither of the parties are mad at her or disappointed in her.  She is absolutely neutral.

As interpreter, I have watched her in action.  Parties come in laden with the pain of their shattered lives, their instability, their grief and loss, their fear for an uncertain future.  They often see the divorce at that moment as their lifeboat – their last chance to grab onto something, anything, from the wreckage, and survive the disaster that their family life has become.  Fighting is the only way they can envision to get the money, the property, the time with the kids, the court protection, so they can still be okay after their lives fell apart.

Each party must come in with their proposed orders for the mediation effort, so every aspect of the parenting plan and other documents has already been considered and thought out ahead of time.  The mediator has taken the time to review it all and mark the places where there are differences.  Then she starts her long journey from room to room gently nudging the parties out of their respective positions for the good of all.

I remember sitting with a very sweet very hurt woman who just said no, I want everything exactly as I have it on the papers.  I will not give in on anything!  She then launched into a historical view of her husband’s wrongness, his cruelty, his selfishness and the pain he has caused – he doesn’t deserve anything!  And that may be perfectly true.  But as the mediator pointed out, this is a no-fault state, and that means the judge is not going to grant property based on who was bad or good as a spouse.

It is a community property state, and that means that no matter who earned money and who took care of the kids and who mowed the lawn and who screwed the neighbor, you are likely to split the property and money fairly close down the middle.  Exceptions are not based on bad behavior, but historical earning potential, education, the best interest of the children, health, and such factors.  The concept is that when two people are married, they are working together toward common goals.  Saving for a house, helping each other through school, and sharing everything.  Right up until it falls apart.  And then the law still views it as from date of marriage to date of final separation, the fruits of the marriage are a shared harvest.

Back to the mediation.  The woman I was with on this occasion finally and somewhat resentfully agreed that hubbie could have one more overnight a week and write the child off on his taxes as a dependent, and the mediator was able to use those two slight movements to start rolling the boulder away from the mouth of the cave of their marriage.  She went to the husband’s room and was gone for nearly an hour, after only fifteen minutes with us, so he may have been more of a hard sell.  But when she came back, she came in stating she had good news.  He was grateful for her offers, and he had now agreed to something she really wanted –  that she could make decisions related to education, health care and religion, instead of them as a couple having to come to consensus on these matters every time.  He would like to be consulted, but she would have the ultimate word.

Her face lit up at this.  It was her child, and she was not the one who had betrayed the family unit!  This give-in allowing her to be the formal on-paper “custodial parent” was a vindication.  She had more residential time and and now she had the decision-making.  She had regained her family of two (out of three original members).  She was the new head of household!  She sighed with relief several times.  She felt empowered, and was able in turn to be generous.  It helped that she didn’t hear all the crap he had likely said over the last hour, or the look she would have wanted to wipe off his face with her fist.  She just saw the calm, kind, neutral face of the mediator.  So the wife ended up giving in on several matters of importance to the husband that were worth a lot of money, including signing off on a home he had owned before and during the marriage.

He in turn was happy to keep his house and not have to sell it.  He had bought it as a young bachelor and struggled to keep it during periods of unemployment, and he had hated the idea of having to sell it and start over.  It made him feel safer and more settled to keep this house.  He came around about the higher child support figure and let it be set to include his overtime based on a yearly average.  In the beginning, he had been adamant that he did not have to work over 40 hours a week, but now that he wouldn’t have to come up with a chunk of money to pay her, and he had the freedom to sell his home if he ended up getting into trouble later, he also felt safer in agreeing to pay more child support.

After five or six more trips, the mediator started coming back with kind greetings from the other party.  “Your husband says he is happy to pay full support.  He still plans on helping out more than that, buying clothes and sports equipment and such, whenever he can.  He would like you to exchange tax returns every year so you can see if there is a big change, because he isn’t guaranteed the overtime.  But for now, he agrees to just take his annual income for last year and divide it by twelve for current child support.  He is really grateful for your cooperation.  You are going to get through this!”

Presumably she was also going to the other room with encouraging talk and acknowledgement of generosity and willingness to cooperate.  She is expert at reframing the issues so that the parties can come to resolution.  I actually heard her tell one very upset party at another mediation a fairly good argument for why she was not going to listen to anything about the failed marriage.

“Your marriage is over.  That is why you are getting divorced.  So nothing that happened in it is part of this process.  The marriage and all its problems are behind you now.  You are moving into a new status as co-parents.  Think of yourselves as partners in a new business.  The business is to raise your child successfully.  The more you can let go of the past, the happier your child will be. Let’s focus on the future for your children’s sake”.

In cases where there is too much resentment and entrenched anger, she also reminds the parties of a very true fact.  The judge does not know you – the judge does not know your children.  The judge has no way to know who contributed more to the marriage, and who deserves what.  That is not even relevant in the law.  So if you two cannot decide which days your child will be where, and who is going to spend a holiday or have a vacation, or how to distribute your property, the judge will have to make a fairly random decision based on very limited information, and you will both have to live with that for years to come.  It is up to you.

If you are more interested in stopping your partner from getting what she wants than in getting more of what you want, then go to trial. Otherwise, give until it hurts and you can begin to heal.  And the thousands of dollars you each save on lawyers will remain in the two households that your children now call home.  Your children will see that you care enough about them to get along with their other parent.  And that is a treasure worth talking about.  Good luck.


I once bought my niece a birthday card with a language joke on it.  Two girlfriends are sitting in a cafe, and one casually asks, “So where’s your birthday party gonna be at?”  The ultra correct friend replies, “You can’t say that!  You are not supposed to end a sentence with a preposition!” So the friend says, “Oh! Okay!  So where’s your birthday party gonna be at, bitch?”

I personally hate the word bitch, but I still found the card funny, because language is such an organic and transforming thing, so free, that no matter how many rules we set down, the language is still there to be played with.  And yes, I just ended that last sentence with a preposition, as proof of my assertion.

There are two kinds of grammar – prescriptive and descriptive.  English teachers are considered prescriptive – telling students how they “should” talk.  I remember teachers admonishing us working class students to follow strict middle-class standard rules in order to “sound educated”.  Unlike English teachers, linguists are descriptive, simply observing and documenting how people do talk, rather than prescribing what is correct.  Sociologists have also stepped in to clarify the ways in which privilege and social capital, if you will, impact the ways in which we choose (or have less choice) in how we communicate.

For English especially, as a global language with twice as many non-native speakers as native speakers, language “correctness” is an  endless source of thought and discussion.  You may (or may not) be born with English as your mother tongue, but however you decide the language “should” be used, there are many more people using it in their own way (simplified grammar, words picked up from popular culture, local flavor) than people who can or want to use it “correctly”.  And why not?  Take a tool of historical oppression and use it for your own purposes, I say.  On many occasions I have observed that two non-native speakers of English can get along with their simplified streamlined English better than if either of them are stuck with a native speaker who cannot manage to use “global English” understandably.

As interpreters, we obviously are not going to correct anyone’s speech in either language.  That is out of our domain.  But we still have to make the word choices for every single sentence we utter.  Theoretically, we are trained to “maintain the register” of the original utterance.  So if a judge or lawyer is using highly technical language, we are not allowed to clarify, simplify, explain, or otherwise change what is said.  The non-English speaker is to be just as mystified as the English speaker would be.  We are to place them in the position of the English speaker, even if that is not a very nice position.

Fair enough.  Or unfair enough.  But in practice, many terms that are widely known in English jurisprudence are culturally bound concepts that may not even have an equivalent in the target culture and therefore in the target language.  Think about something like your Miranda rights.  There was a case that went up to the US Supreme Court in which a defendant whose last name was Miranda claimed he did not realize that he had the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney, the right to a public defender if he couldn’t afford one.  And he also didn’t know that anything he said at that point could be used against him in court.  The Supreme Court ruled that his confession could not be used against him because he had not been told what his rights were.

Why?  Most US citizens will easily answer that we have the absolute right not to testify against ourselves.  We call it the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution.  Instead of saying “I have the right not to testify against myself” we simply say “I take the fifth”.  Across the dominant culture, this phrase clearly conveys “I maintain my right to not incriminate myself”.   So should interpreters say literally “I take the fifth”?  I would argue that we cannot because it becomes nonsensical.  A fifth of what?  A fifth of whiskey?  There is also a regional phrase in my target language for a place that is very remote and far away (in the boonies) that is “the fifth anus of the world”.  Don’t ask me why, but apparently by the time you get to the fifth anus, it is a place that few people need to get to.  Language is so fraught with peril.

Back to the fifth in question.  The right to remain silent and the rest of it have come to be called Miranda Warnings, and most people in mainstream culture have an idea of what that means.  Law enforcement tends to be careful about giving them so any confession is not later thrown out.  This is exactly the kind of thing interpreters are not allowed to explain.  It is impossible and even unethical for interpreters to explain all the legal terms we hear.  The assigned lawyer is the one who has the job of explaining the legal concepts.  We are just interpreting their explanation.  So if a shy or scared immigrant dares not ask what the lawyer is talking about, they will have no way to find out.  And there is nothing the interpreter can do.

Beyond strictly culture-bound words like Miranda Warnings, we have to deal with certain terms that are well understood and common in the source language, but whose counterpart is more obscure in the target language.  In these cases, the English speaker easily understands a term, but the immigrant hearing the “correct” term will likely not understand it in the target language.  What do we do?  Do we prescriptively say “the correct” word, or do we use a term that is much more likely to be understood?  This is a theoretical question that plays out once we interpreters have to choose a specific word.  Because we each have our personal lexicons developed throughout our lives, we each have an affinity for certain vocabulary either because it seems correct to us or we believe it to be clearer.

Interpreters tend to fall into two camps on this question.  Some of us use the language just a little bit more loosely, to make our best attempt at actually communicating the information given in the most accurate but also understandable way.  Others have argued in our professional trainings and discussions that we as interpreters should “hold up the bar” and always use correct terms, even if the defendants do not understand them.  Thus we can educate them along the way, so that eventually (if they get arrested often enough) we can all speak correctly and keep the language untainted.

I believe the vast majority of interpreters would say they want both correctness and communication, and in a perfect world those two items would be found in the one perfect term.   And for most terms, there is such an equivalent.  But in some cases we have a dilemma.  Do we want to be right, or do we want to be rightly understood?

A good example of such a term is Public Defender.  In the US, most people understand that is a lawyer who works for the government and will represent you at no cost.  So some interpreters decided to call it “free lawyer”.  But that became a problem, because there is a local program where you can qualify for a public defender even if you are above the income limit (but below the income where you could afford to pay for a private attorney).  In those cases, you can get a public defender and pay them a fraction of the cost of a private attorney.  Last time I saw it, it was 600 dollars for a fairly simple misdemeanor case.  So we really cannot say “you have a free lawyer and you have to pay 600 dollars.”  The term becomes inaccurate.

In some countries, there is a special term that translates back to English as “lawyer by profession” that is used for a government-appointed attorney.  But I noticed that people didn’t seem to understand it.  So I tried the term out on half a dozen native speakers outside of court, and nobody knew what it meant except that it was some kind of a lawyer.  I asked people from various countries including bilingual people with graduate degrees, and one conversation went like this (in the target language):

What is a “lawyer by profession”?

A lawyer.

What kind of lawyer?

No idea.

How must do they charge?

How would I know?

Who assigned them?

No idea.

What does the “by profession” mean to you then?

It means their profession is that they are a lawyer – they are a “lawyer by profession”.

When I informed one of my guinea pigs that that it was a proposed term for public defender (using a term that reflects the English this time) he shrugged his shoulders and asked, “Why don’t you just say that then?”

That in fact is what I do now, although I know some of my grammarian colleagues feel I may be lowering the standards and not upholding the language.  They are the ones in the camp for keeping the target language unsullied, and educating the non-English speakers with the correct terms.

I did some online research on the topic and found a great and heated discussion between two long-term interpreters.  The upshot of the drawn-out discussion after much citing, much quoting, and much referencing to solid proof to justify their respective positions, was summed up in the last two entries:

(Prescriptive version): If you don’t say “attorney by profession” you are incorrect!  It is the only correct way to say it!

(Descriptive version): You are correct.  The only correct way to say it is “attorney by profession”.  So go ahead and say that if you wish to be correct.  However, if like me you actually wish to be UNDERSTOOD by the defendant, you will have to say “public defender”.

Of course, we can go into circular arguments on this.  If every single interpreter agreed to “hold up the bar” and consistently used the “correct” term, in a perfect world, all defendants new and old would become educated about this and all other legal terms and even start speaking the Queen’s English and whatever royal version there is in their home language.  Such a linguistic paradise would be heavenly to some, and a bit of a bore to others.  My personal experience is that language is gloriously organic and will continue to grow like a garden, no matter how much the privileged few assiduously weed and prune it.  And I find that life-affirming and joyful.










We interpreters try our best to avoid sitting alone with anyone who is getting our language services.  Interpreters must remain neutral, and sitting and chatting with a party just doesn’t look good, no matter how harmless the conversation.  Remember that almost no one else in the room knows what we may be talking about.  Not sitting with them also lessens the chances that we will be seen as giving, or actually asked for, legal advice.  These points are inherent in our code of conduct, and vital to our role as an impartial professional.  Not being alone with our language service recipients also avoids the “opening of the floodgates”.

Long ago and far away, someone remarkably similar to me found herself myself in a crowded room, sitting next to a traffic court defendant, in a case that demonstrates how the opening of the floodgates plays out on the ground.

Think about it.  A person has been bottled up for weeks, sometimes months, about some injustice they perceive.  In traffic court, they have been pulled over and cited, often for something they are sure they did not do.  They get parking tickets when they have paid for parking.  They get speeding tickets when they are sure they were going slowly.  And most hurtfully, they do something that a whole row of cars is doing, such as driving in a bus lane, and yet they alone are targeted, pulled over and ticketed.  And they naturally want to talk about it, which is why they have set a hearing in the first place.  They are literally bursting with all kinds of relevant and irrelevant information about this indignity.

None of the above applies to the case I have in mind.  It was a stranger case than the routine ones above, as the defendant kept trying to tell me, and as I kept cutting him off.

“Madame, I would like to share with you-”

“Yes, of course.  But let’s wait until we are before the judge.”

“But madame, I was not-”

“Let us wait.”

“He went to the hospital, my brother, but I didn’t know-”

“Yes but you must tell this to the judge.”

“He was dating a very bad woman, because-”

“We will be in the hearing soon.  Patience, if you will.”

“His son bought him the car and I have proof-”

“Sir, I respect you and the information you wish to convey.  But I am concerned that if you tell it to me, you will feel like you told it, and then you will not tell it to the judge, and then the judge cannot rule on your case with all the facts.  It does not help you for me to know, only for the judge to know.”

Clearly, this defendant begged to differ with my strict analysis, because after just a few moments of holding onto the information that had been swirling around in his mind in preparation for this day, he burst out again:

“Oh! But if you had seen her when they came over to dinner, you would have known he was using again!  I cannot believe my nephew didn’t tell me!”

I excused myself (much later than I should have) and pretended I had to answer a text message, which is not really allowed in the waiting area, but it was the lesser of two evils.  I moved away and assiduously studied my forbidden telephone screen until called into the hearing.

When the judge called us in, the defendant hit the ground running after his false starts with me.  And who can blame him?  The pressure within him had been building up for weeks, ever since he had randomly discovered that he had gotten a ticket for causing an accident he knew nothing about.  He burst out with a quickly moving story, shifting like waves in a windstorm, about his brother who uses drugs, his nephew who takes care of his old father but is also mad at him, an old address, a new address, and yet another address, who lived in what house some years ago, the skinny and suspiciously young girlfriend who was injured in an accident, the dinner party, the phone call, the car in his nephew’s name, the hospitalization, and the police report stating she was the passenger, her mental health issues, the brother’s addiction history, along with a few other morsels of information, including his place of work and how long he had worked there, how nice his boss is, and other matters, because one thing leads to another.  All this time, the judge was watching him patiently, trying to figure out what the point was.

Then finally came the question to the judge that revealed his actual defense to having caused an accident:

“Why would I be driving the car my nephew bought for his father when I have my own car, and why would I, a married man, have my brother’s  girlfriend in the car with me?  Why?!”

The magistrate immediately picked up the rhetorical nature of the question, and shot back, “Ah!  Are you claiming that you were not the driver of the car, that it is a case of mistaken identity?”

The defendant beamed with relief.  “Yes, and I am so mad about it!”

The defendant and the judge smiled at each other, and although this interpreter is counseled not to reflect gestures or facial expressions, it is likely that a smile of relief was reflected on this face as well.

With a little help from traffic court, the defendant was able to meet with the traffic prosecutor and present his story and proof that same day, instead of waiting for the formal hearing set out some months later.  The prosecutor listened carefully to his story.  I don’t know if it was my imagination, but the story seemed to me to become more coherent in the retelling, perhaps because once the floodgates had opened and the story had been released to the judge, it seemed to gather itself into some kind of order around the salient facts.

I think it also helped the defendant to organize his thoughts when he observed that the hearing judge had reacted favorably to certain facts while ignoring many others.  After the retelling, the prosecutor very kindly offered to look over his proof of mistaken identity and potentially drop the case against him before the trial.   The defendant seems almost to be in shock over his sudden happiness that the story he had been telling himself all kinds of version of in his head had finally escaped and now all of a sudden had led to the desired result.  The joy, the relief of being heard!  And understood.

Looking back at it, this defendant seemed to feel like so many others in being completely aghast at how little, in the vast flood of facts and details and stories they have to share, ends up being relevant to the legal case.  The case may end up turning on one tiny little dot of information.  But few people who are not highly trained or cognizant of the law can figure out where the miniature geography that holds that vital dot of information lies among the swirling waters holding the flotsam and jetsam of their life stories, once those floodgates are opened and they finally get to speak.

How to pinpoint the relevant information in these hearings without a lawyer is an ongoing struggle.  And no, the interpreter cannot help with it, but must pass on all the bits and pieces grabbed from the floodwaters and leave it to the judge to make sense of it all.

No wonder I sometimes feel like a drowned rat after a day in court.





Many people get indignant when they read that some idiot drove drunk and then at sentencing was ordered to spend a mere night in jail, or two nights if they blew especially high for blood alcohol content.  I can understand that, but I also believe that few people are aware of all the aspects of a criminal sentence beyond the upfront jail time.  The devil is in the details, as the saying goes. Let me share with you a fairly typical first-time DUI (driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs) sentence in my community.   I am not talking here about other crimes such as vehicular assault, drug crimes, or vehicular homicide.  Just good old-fashioned “drunk driving”.

For someone convicted of DUI, the minimum sentence is one day (overnight) in jail and a fine of 850 dollars, along with other court costs and conditions.  The maximum by law is a year in jail and a 5000 dollar fine.  Additional mandatory fees include 200 dollars for the breathalyzer test, and another couple hundred in court costs to help fund the criminal justice system.  So at least around 1200 bucks or so.

On a typical first-time DUI case, where no one was badly injured, there was not an extensive amount of property damage, the person did not try to flee, and there were no children in the car, to name just a few factors, the judge tends to start with the minimum penalties, along with the usual conditions, with the remainder of the sentence (both money and jail) suspended.  Please understand, however, that suspended does not mean it goes away.  Far from it.

So what does suspended sentence mean?  It means something quite ominous to the typical erring human, actually.  The rest of the whole year of potential jail time and the remainder of the 5000 fine is literally hanging over your head for five long years.   If you fall behind in the payments, you can be sanctioned.  If you violate any of the conditions, you can be sanctioned.  If you miss a court hearing, you can be sanctioned.  So in effect, the jail time and further fines and sanctions can be sprinkled out upon you over a five year period, long after you forget why you drank and drove, and perhaps even years into your sobriety.  There is a saying that something can come back and “bite you in the butt” and it seems to me that a DUI suspended sentence has a hard potential bite.  As it should, to the degree that such a bite promotes safety and sobriety.

Each time you fail to comply with any one of the myriad conditions, you get called back into court and you can end up with some days of jail,  additional monetary fines, or additional punishment, such as work crew.  Work crew is where you get picked up at a set location at the crack of dawn and ride along in a van with other convicts to perform labor such as cleaning up litter, weeding in a park, and such.  Although all useful work is honorable, some people don’t fancy being spotted by friends and colleagues wearing a bright orange work crew vest and picking up garbage downtown.  So let’s go over the “usual conditions” that you have to comply with to avoid such sanctions during your five years of probation on the DUI case.

Where to begin?  Further conditions include, but are not limited to, having zero new criminal law violations of any kind.  So if you get a traffic ticket and your license is suspended for non-payment, and you then drive with a suspended license, that is a new independent crime, with its own set of sanctions.  But it is also a violation of the conditions of your DUI, so it will also bring you back into court on your old DUI to face punishment for having a new criminal law violation.  The new crime does not have to be alcohol or drug related at all.  You could  get into a fistfight (assault) or keep calling your ex (telephone harassment), or commit any number of lesser or greater crimes, and all of that will increase your punishment for your DUI long after your original sentencing.  Years after, even.

An expensive condition that many people fail due to lack of money or other limitations is sobriety treatment.  As a condition of being convicted of a DUI, you will be court-ordered to obtain a chemical dependency evaluation, and (here is the clincher) follow the recommendations.  That means if the drug and alcohol counselor writes in her report that you need two years of treatment (the most common finding in my experience) then you have to pay for and attend two years of treatment, usually at the agency who decided how much treatment you need.  This may include inpatient, intensive out-patient, individual and group therapy, and several AA type (sober support) meetings per week (on top of the treatment at the state-approved agency).  And if you miss any meetings, seem to have a bad attitude, or fail to provide proof of your AA meetings, the agency writes your probation officer.  Your probation officer writes the court.  The court calls you in for a hearing.  You get additional sanctions.  Did I mention that treatment can cost thousands?

There is also a one-day workshop required for all DUI cases, called Victim’s Panel.  It is a presented by a group of volunteers who have been impacted by DUI drivers.  Some have lost a family member.  Some may have become disabled.  Some were traumatized by being hit and injured out of the blue.  This panel of speakers tries to reach the emotional side of the crime, similar to the John’s Class which I describe in detail in an earlier post.  For Victim’s Panel, you spend a day sitting in a room with people who have been deeply wounded by someone like you – someone who did what you did.  Enjoy!  As Mothers Against Drunk Driving state, the workshop is “to show offenders first-hand the trauma, physical pain, emotional suffering and devastation, financial loss, anger, and frustration that is commonly experienced by innocent victims and their family members because of a DUI-related crash”.

While you are doing all this and paying for it all, missing days at work with your life turned upside down, and getting zero pity because you are a stupidass drunk, don’t forget to let the court know each time you move.  Because the court needs to be able to reach you to call you in for hearings throughout the five year period.  So you have a requirement to report any change of contact information within 24 hours of a move.  This prevents people from coming in and claiming the never got a hearing notice.  It is the convict’s job to keep in touch with the court.  If in fact the person is AWOL (another acronym – absent without leave, meaning the court cannot find you) then the time of absence is NOT included in the five years.  If you were gone for ten years after only one year of probation, once the court finds you again, their probation clock start ticking anew and you will still have four years probation left.  And by the way, if you do miss a hearing, a warrant will be issued for your arrest.

On the financial side,  the court can require restitution as part of a criminal case.  Criminal cases have punishments galore, but do not necessarily include making the perpetrator “pay back” the victim.  For example, if someone hits my car, the usual procedure, if I cannot settle it via the insurance, is to sue them in civil court and get a judgment and then try to enforce the judgment by attaching their property, garnishing their wages, etc.  In cases where the court orders restitution in a criminal case, one of the conditions of probation is to pay restitution to the victims, so what would usually be a civil case is rolled into the criminal case.  In car accidents, the restitution amount can be a thousand or so for hitting a parked car or a telephone poll, up to any number of thousands if there were medical bills or hospitalization.

I remember a case where a defense attorney asked a client why he hadn’t just paid the restitution to be free of it, instead of coming up on all these review hearings and getting further jail time, when it was 137 dollars, and the young man explained that it was 137 thousand dollars, not dollars.  To wit, $137,000.  In his case, the lawyer at that time had allowed him to plead guilty with an open-ended (to be determined) amount of restitution, and it turned out that someone was badly injured and had surgery on a leg.  Did I mention that many drivers do not have insurance?  Apparently beer is cheaper than car insurance, and it sure tastes better.  Until you have an accident, and then the taste is highly bitter.  It ends up tasting a lot like regret.

Does this seem like a lot of conditions?  Are you getting the picture that the one day of jail is not the whole story?  But wait, there’s more! We are not done with conditions yet.  Here is another one.  You may only drive with a valid license and insurance.  And good luck with the new cost of paying high-risk insurance along with all your court costs and restitution and treatment.  More likely than not, welcome to my world of taking the bus.  You also lose any commercial driver’s license you have, so you are barred from driving any commercial vehicle such as a taxi, truck, or any work vehicle with a commercial license.

Another condition.  How would you like to breathe into a breathalyzer every time you want to start your car?  It may also be set to go off a few more times while you are driving along.  How would you like to pay a couple hundred dollars to have it installed on any car you ever drive?  And once it is installed, you have the pleasure of continuing to pay for it at around 100 dollars a month for at least a year, and possibly longer.  Think about it.  You will pay a private company so they can try to catch you drinking and start the process to send you back to jail.  This is what you will do, that is, once you get the chance to apply and pay for a special ignition interlock license.

Before you can even get to the ignition interlock installation and ongoing fees, your driver’s license will be suspended for a period of 90 days if you had a low blood alcohol reading, or for a whole year if you blew a higher level or refused the test.  After the suspension, you get to pay yet another fee to have your license reinstated.  Before it will be reinstated, you have to file proof that you have purchased high-risk car insurance , which you will need to keep for at least three years, sometimes longer.  Even if the licensing department didn’t require it, you have a court order that you may not drive without valid insurance as a condition of your continued release.  And of course you will pay yet another fee to obtain the special ignition interlock device license.

Whether it is your first time or your tenth, anyone who is careless enough to drink and drive is considered to have an addiction problem that is out of control.  Because nobody in their right mind would drink and drive.  It is stupid and dangerous to barrel down the road in a couple thousand tons of metal, able to hit and kill people and cause life-changing harm.  If you ever, even once, drink and drive, you have a drinking problem, along with a serious lapse in judgment.  And please don’t bother me with an “everybody does it” argument – my answer to that is, you need to find new friends.  Very few people do it.  If your friend do it, you need new friends.  And if you do it, you have a problem.

Thus it is also quite common for the judge to order you to abstain completely from the use of alcohol (or drugs as appropriate) during the whole term of probation.  This means you may be required to call the probation department every single workday and listen to a recording that tells you a color, such as yellow.  If you are assigned yellow, and you hear yellow, you must go to the office that same day (likely during what you used to think of as your working hours) and pee in a cup.  Because it is random, you could come up two days in a row.  Failure to appear counts the same as a positive reading, and will cause you to be called back into court.  You will also likely have random UAs or urinalyses as part of your mandated treatment.  So drink a lot of water.  And be prepared to leave work early.

For cases where the judge is especially concerned about the high likelihood that you will fall back into drinking, there is a new wonder of technology called by its acronym SCRAM.  SCRAM is a Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor.   No two interpreters that I know say it exactly the same, but the convicted driver soon finds out exactly what it entails.  The SCRAM  unit fits on your ankle and virtually sniffs your skin night and day, because alcohol is something that you exude from every pore in your body after drinking.  With this device (which you will wear 24/7 including in the shower and in bed) the unit very quickly signals to the monitoring agency that you have consumed alcohol, and the notification chain of events brings you back into court to face further sanctions for violating the terms of your probation.  Think you could get away with a just a couple of beers?  Think again.  The SCRAM unit is extremely sensitive to the point that users are counseled to avoid bodywashes with alcohol in them, and even some brands of cough medicine.

Feeling overwhelmed yet about how to follow all your conditions to avoid further jail time?  Haha, it starts to feel a bit like a bad hangover, doesn’t it?  Headache, a bit of nausea, and a hole in your heart that reminds you that it is your own damn fault.  Along with confusion.  Don’t worry, the probation department will be explaining to you where to go for services and how to comply with all the conditions.  And they will be charging you 25 dollars a month on top of all your other fees in order to actively monitor your case for the first couple of years.  Your probation officer will read regular reports from your treatment agency and any other entities involved, because you will sign waivers allowing all the parties to share information about you.  Your drinking and driving has made you a matter of public interest.

Your probation officer will start by setting face-to-face meetings every few weeks.  Over time, after showing full compliance, they may allow you to come in less frequently, as you slowly move through all the classes, workshops, fines and fees, treatment, urine tests, and other conditions.  And remember, they only work during office hours.  If you also work those hours, you will be asking for time off from your boss in order to come and meet with the probation officer.  And of course if you miss a scheduled meeting with probation, they write the judge, you get a letter to come in for a hearing, and if you miss your hearing (perhaps because you had the silly idea that you wanted to keep your job and you have had so many appointments and you don’t want to tell your boss why have to be gone so much) then the judge will issue a warrant for your arrest, and you may end up in jail, which will also make it pretty hard for you to show up for work.

So next time you are toasting with your friends in a bar and taking one for the road, think hard about the low, low cost of a taxi.   And consider also the incredible fun you can have being sober.  If you ever spend the whole evening at a party as the sober designated driver, you will learn a lot about your friends as they drink, and unlike them, you will actually remember it all.  And it will give you a useful little mirror to reflect upon how you present yourself to the world when you are  not sober.  It is a funny little bit of reflection you will gain if you can be sober around people who are drinking or drugging, and keep your eyes open, and really experience how people are doing in their altered states.  After a few such eye-opening observations, you may even decide to get sober and stay sober, even without all the fuss of a criminal case.  And why not?  There’s no law against it!



News flash!  Whether it is your sex partner, a sex worker, a coworker, or simply someone you would like to get frisky with, you do not have the inalienable right to grab someone’s crotch without their consent!  Shocking news to some, but true nevertheless.

As a girl in a poor neighborhood, crotch grabbing was an unfortunate and seemingly inevitable part of my school experience.  I remember being grabbed from behind and in front by a myriad of boys of all kinds.  I tried yelling, slapping, arguing, pleading, and even grabbing back once, which caused a momentary shock and a heartfelt and indignant response of “You can’t do that to me! I’m a guy!”  They didn’t understand much about what they were doing, but they knew that much.

I remember years later exchanging school stories with an upscale lawyer who was shocked by this and innocently asked why I never “went to the principal about it”.  “Oh, I don’t know,” I casually replied, “Maybe ’cause I didn’t want the shit kicked out of me.”  We knew very well that the principal would not be able or willing to protect us from our “peers”.  My lawyer friend and I were mutually surprised by our so very different experiences in life.

I am happy to say that I have never had a workplace where that experience continued, but I am aware that it is still prevalent for many workers.   It is just another way for those with power to remind those without that “we own you” and can do as we will.  Sexual harassment, sexual coercion, and even straight-up sexual assault are part of the bitter workday for many workers who, like the tender and frightened girl I was, cannot face the real or potential consequences of speaking up.  Or who unlike me bravely do speak up, and are punished instead of protected by a society that cannot see “what the big deal is”.  When aggressors face little to no risk in continuing their behavior, it perpetuates itself and goes on reinforcing the power structure.  Many human bodies are still seen as public spaces.  But that is certainly not the law.

In fact, I have seen several criminal cases involving crotch grabbing, all workplace incidents.  Of course crotch grabbing is not the official title of the criminal code section.  Rather, it is cast as “assault in the 4th degree with sexual motivation”.  Many people think of assault as a punch in the face.  Assault where I live simply means an intentional touching of another person without their consent in a way that was offensive to them or would be offensive to a reasonable person.   I myself don’t find it unreasonable to presume I should be able to walk through the world or even lie down without anyone grabbing my crotch out of the blue.  And it doesn’t occur to me that other people’s crotches should be within my reach at my whim.  But apparently my attitude is not universal, especially among those who were raised to feel entitled, and view others as property.

My work has shown me that the attitude still exists in some workplaces that crotch grabbing is simply being friendly, flirtatious. and fun – a complete denial of how it feels to the recipients.  At the same time, most larger employers are giving workshops and doing education about workplace harassment and standards that need to be met.  So sexual harassment has completely ended.  Just kidding!  I wish.  Instead, most sexual harassment has now gone undercover.

Believe it or not from your various positions of privilege, it still happens quite routinely at certain workplaces, but now it is denied, like racism often is.  Instead of “Why shouldn’t I do that?” it has become “I wouldn’t do that.”  And in both cases, the victim who would like to keep her physical integrity and choose how she is touched is perceived as being unreasonable, oversensitive, or simply lying.  Let me acknowledge here that of course many men are also victims, but all the victims I have worked with so far have been female, so I use the feminine here, with full respect for all victims along the gender spectrum, and no intent to be exclusionary.

Although I am aware that sexual harassment is alive and well in the workplace, I have absolutely no opinion on whether any specific individual for whom I have interpreted is guilty or innocent.  I don’t know and it is not even relevant for me to know as an interpreter.  I write about this in detail in Day in the Life (recounting the incidents of a single workday) in my Longer Pieces section.  Whenever I interpret, it seems to me that I observe with one part of my mind while I interpret with another.  I observe for future reference, while I continue to interpret in the moment, as faithfully, neutrally and accurately as humanly possible.  And as I interpret, I see things from my watchtower.  Some of them I think about later.

I remember the look on one man’s face of surprise and even shock when confronted with this charge. The head shaking.  The deer in the headlights.  “How could this happen to me?  I didn’t do anything wrong!  This is so crazy!  I want to go to trial!  Like I told my wife here, that girl’s crazy!  Why would I do that?  I didn’t do it!  Of course I didn’t.”

The lawyer explains in full detail how the alleged victim clearly and sincerely believes that something happened, is clearly very disturbed by it, was consistent in her interviews with her boss, the police, the prosecution and even the defense investigator, and thus she will likely make a very good witness for trial.  “And so far,” the defense attorney adds, “I have been unable to discover any possible motive she could have for fabricating this story that you grabbed her – private parts”.  (I note as an aside that even this criminal defense attorney who specializes in assisting accused sexual aggressors acknowledges that a woman has private parts.  Ha!)

Toward the end of the interview, the husband and wife have a moment to come to a decision.  No great choice for them.  “Do you want to go to trial, which may lead to a conviction, jail time, losing your job, having a permanent record, and deportation?  Or would you like to plead guilty to something you claim you didn’t do?  If you plead guilty you have to say in writing that you committed an act that fulfills all the elements of the crime.  That means you have to swear under penalty of perjury that you touched her in a way that was offensive, and say where that was on her body.  And you will have to say on the record in open court before the judge that yes, this is true.  That you are guilty.”

“The good news is that if you plead guilty, the prosecutor will not ask for jail time.  The bad news is that they are asking for a sexual deviancy evaluation.  This may include a lie detector test, and the peter meter, where you are checked for physical arousal to certain stimuli.  Based on the results of the evaluation, you may be ordered into further treatment.  And you have to pay for all of this yourself.  The cost?  A couple thousand.  Two or three.  Around there.  No, that is just the cost of the evaluation – treatment will be more.  You’ll have to check with the therapist on that.”

The husband in his nervousness gets up to stretch and his young wife automatically stands when he does, but then she steps away and turns her back to him, leaning her head against the wall.  He stands behind her, and says, “I think I’d better plead guilty,” to which she quietly responds, “Why wouldn’t you just go to trial and fight it, if she is just a liar and you didn’t do anything?” He says, “Honey, you and I both KNOW I didn’t do anything wrong!  But I just don’t want to take the chance of a conviction and jail time, for your sake, and the children’s!  I am doing this for you!”

I can see the wife’s face, although the husband cannot.  And her face tells me that her husband is wrong at least about one thing.  They do not both KNOW that he didn’t do anything wrong.  How could they?  She is not at work with him, observing how he acts and talks.  She is not inside his head.  She cannot know and she will never know what he did or didn’t do.  She has a hard time believing that a random woman at work would go through all this agony for no reason, no reason at all, if nothing at all had happened.  She is trying, trying her wifely hardest, to believe him.  And it is gut-wrenching for her.  And it is a punch in the face to her, that he cannot even see how hard this is on her.

The supportive wife of the alleged crotch grabber can never know what really took place that day at work, or any other day.  And that is beyond painful to her.  She has to fly in the face of the evidence.  She has to try and force herself to believe what he says, so she can go on living with him, parenting with him, and helping him to pay for his evaluation, his treatment, his court costs, and the rest of it.  She has to choose to believe him, because thinking that he is guilty would make her life unbearable.  And yet that nagging, gnawing doubt that makes her turn her face to the wall – she can never know for sure exactly who he is and what he has done.  And he doesn’t seem to recognize what an incredible leap of faith he is asking her to take.  Because he is so used to being trusted, believed, and loved by her that he takes her for granted.

Whether he also took a coworker for granted and relied on her silence as acquiescence, I will never know.  And neither will she.

I don’t need to.   But it would be nice for her to have that certainty.


Did you know that in some vernaculars, the noun “ass” can be used as a versatile add-on to enhance the flavor and smell of almost any adjective or noun?  Yes, it is true.  A little three-letter bit of spice.  Hang it onto the back end of the concept you wish to emphasize, and good-ass luck to you.

Heard in court waiting areas:

(in frustration) I’m sick and tired of these fucking court-ass people!

(in trepidation) It’s raining like hell and I got these big old shiny-ass shoes that are gonna get filthy.

(in deprecation) He’s such a stupid-ass he don’t even know I dumped his ass.  He still calling me!

And an old favorite, for which (although I hate woman-bashing in general and mother-bashing in particular) I retain a certain fondness because of its sheer amplitude:                                                                              Shut your face, you mother-fucking army dick-ass.

So remember, almost any adjective or noun.  Try it for yourself.  Don’t be a tight-ass.  It will just make you seem sorry-ass.  And you don’t want your friends to consider you anything less than kick-ass, right?