The answer to that question depends on how comfortable you are using the English language. If there is any doubt, it may be best to err on the side of caution and ask for an interpreter early in your case.

In Illinois, the courts are required to provide a translator for criminal matters if the defendant needs one. All Chicago-area courts have Spanish translators on hand. Other translators are brought in as needed. This can cause some scheduling difficulties with court dates, but any disadvantage is far outweighed by your having a complete understanding of your court case.

The legal and procedural language used in court can be difficult to understand for a non-attorney, especially if you are already anxious about being in court. We have had clients who are normally fluent in English freeze when they get before a judge. Often the translator is simply explaining the procedures taking place. But a translator can be especially important if you are testifying, because you do not want to guess about whether you understood or answered a question correctly.

If you do not ask for a translator early in your case, a judge might distrust your later request and think you are pretending a problem. A recent Illinois Appellate court upheld a decision denying a translator because the defendant had gotten through much of the case without one. (See People v Argueta.) The defendant had repeatedly declined a translator before the trial, and a review of the record showed that the defendant answered questions appropriately.

If you have questions about this or another related Illinois criminal or traffic matter, please contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email

(Besides Skokie, Matt Keenan also serves the communities of Arlington Heights, Chicago, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Evanston, Glenview, Morton Grove, Mount Prospect, Niles, Northbrook, Park Ridge, Rolling Meadows, Wilmette and Winnetka.)

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