Having a bilingual criminal defense attorney at your side in court can be the difference between winning and losing your case.  Sounds like an exaggeration?  Well, its not. If your attorney cannot actually speak your language, that means that details can be missed in a case.  These details can be big facts or small facts–either way, you can’t afford to work with an attorney who can’t understand you or the witnesses in your criminal case.

Why a Bilingual Criminal Attorney Matters

Imagine a situation where you are arrested in Denver, or in a nearby county such as Adams, Arapahoe, Jefferson, Douglas, or Weld.  You are completely innocent of the charges and you are talking to your attorney about the facts of the case.  One of the major facts is that the person accusing you used an expression which in your language is a threat or insult.  But it doesn’t translate clearly into English and only a person familiar with your language or culture understands what is being said. In certain countries, for instance, some words are curse words while that same word means something else in a different country.  If your attorney doesn’t understand either, how will this criminal attorney help you?  How can he or she present your case clearly?

And this is just one of a million examples. Every day, people who speak Spanish are represented by attorneys who know only enough Spanish to order at a restaurant.  In those instances, the attorneys should use an interpreter to communicate with a client or witness.  If an interpreter is used, then many of the problems or concerns that arise can be avoided. For example, not every attorney in our office speaks fluent Spanish, but these attorneys use a native Spanish speaker as an interpreter.

Having someone who actually knows the language can make a huge difference. For one, clients feel more comfortable speaking with someone who understands them.

Have you ever tried to speak your native language to a person you know doesn’t understand you complete?  When you try to do this, do you find that you cut out a lot of details, that you try to rush through and sometimes you even avoid communicating?  This can happen with clients who are faced with an attorney who doesn’t understand them.  The client talks less and leaves out critical details.  In a criminal case, those differences can be huge and could mean the difference between winning and losing a case.

Beware of Attorneys Who Aren’t Really Bilingual

A criminal defense attorney can put on their website: Hablamos Espanol? But what does that mean? In most cases it means that there is probably a person in that office space who speaks some amount of Spanish? But how much and how well? You can’t know for sure. Don’t assume that just because a criminal defense attorney has a Spanish-sounding last name that they can actual speak Spanish. For years, Colorado had a senator with a Spanish sounding last name who couldn’t actually speak Spanish.

Almost every time I go to court I see criminal defense attorneys that pretend on their website that they speak Spanish. And when I actually see them in action, these attorneys will sometimes use the client’s family member to translate. Or else these same attorneys speak broken Spanish at a high school or middle-school level.

Fluent doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. I grew up in a Spanish-speaking household. My parents were Cuban and had moved here in the 1960s. I learned to speak in Spanish before I learned English. For years, the only way English was spoken in the house was when we watched television. Not every criminal defense attorney should claim to read, write, or speak Spanish well even though many will try.

You wouldn’t want to hire a criminal attorney to handle your case at trial if they could barely speak English. Don’t settle for a attorney who only claims to be bilingual if what you want is someone who really is bilingual. There is a difference and you can hear it.