Language Conduit Theory

In Correa v. Superior Court (2002) 27 Cal.4th 444, the California Supreme Court adopted the "language-conduit" theory for deciding whether to admit out-of-court statements that were communicated to the listener through an interpreter. "The language-conduit theory calls for a case-by-case determination whether, under the particular circumstances of the case, the translated statement fairly may be considered to be that of the original speaker." (Ibid.) In such cases, "the statement simply is considered to be the statement of the original declarant, and not of the translator, so that no additional level of hearsay is added by the translation." (Id. at p. 455.) The Correa court adopted the approach taken by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in U.S. v. Nazemian (9th Cir. 1991) 948 F.2d 522 (Nazemian). (Correa, supra, 27 Cal.4th at p. 457.) The Nazemian court recognized "a number of factors which may be relevant in determining whether the interpreter's statements should be attributed to the defendant under either the agency or conduit theory, such as which party supplied the interpreter, whether the interpreter had any motive to mislead or distort, the interpreter's qualifications and language skill, and whether actions taken subsequent to the conversation were consistent with the statements as translated." (Nazemian, supra, 948 F.2d at p. 527.) No one factor is dispositive. In Nazemian, the defendant challenging the admission of translated statements argued that there was no formal evidence of the interpreter's competence. The court held that such evidence was not necessary because "the fact that the interpreter continued in that role over a prolonged period and multiple meetings suggests that the translation must have been competent enough to allow communication between the parties." (Id. at p. 528.) In Correa, the court allowed police officers to testify as to statements made by an alleged victim and a witness, where the statements had been translated by "unbiased bystanders." (Correa, supra, 27 Cal.4th at p. 448.) The court noted that the officers were able to describe the circumstances under which the translations were made and also pointed to evidence that corroborated the translated statements. (Id. at p. 466.) We review a trial court's ruling on the admissibility of evidence for an abuse of discretion. (People v. Phillips (2000) 22 Cal.4th 226, 236.) In reviewing a determination that the language-conduit theory applies, "we must draw all legitimate inferences in favor of the implicit determination" of the trial court that the interpreter was "sufficiently skilled and unbiased so that the translated statements fairly could be attributed to the declarant." (Correa, supra, 27 Cal.4th at p. 467.)