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Why Google Translate Can’t Provide Certified Legal Translation Services

Law books and gavel

Having Google Translate on your phone is one of the perks of living in the 21st century. But according to one U.S. judge, the app’s “literal but nonsensical” translations aren’t fit for a courtroom. 

Fully automated software might work quickly, but the translations it produces aren’t accurate enough for the law. 

This landmark ruling sets a precedent for all legal translation, interpretation, and transcription. Google’s generic translations can’t provide informed consent, underscoring the value of certified legal translation services. 

The Court Case That Scrapped Google’s App 

The judge’s ruling came during a case against Omar Cruz-Zamora, a Mexican man who doesn’t speak fluent English. In 2018, Kansas state police pulled him over and searched his car. 

At the time, the police officers couldn’t speak Spanish, so they typed their request to search his car into Google Translate. After reading the automatic translations, Cruz-Zamora agreed. 

The officers found cocaine and meth in the car during their search, which led to Cruz-Zamora’s arrest. However, he was eventually let off over a bad translation. 

What seems like an open-and-shut case for the arresting officers fell apart due to the nature of their translations. At the time of the traffic stop, Google mistranslated the officer’s question in English (can I search the car?) to “¿Puedo buscar el auto?”, which amounts to “can I find the car?” in Spanish. 

A Poor Translation Encroached on Cruz-Zamora’s Fourth Amendment Right

Later in court, the judge found Google’s translation was insufficient, with no evidence that Cruz-Zamora understood the question nor his Fourth Amendment right to refuse the search. 

Under the U.S. Constitution, the Fourth Amendment disallows unreasonable searches of property without a warrant or probable cause. And with the question posed as it was, Cruz-Zamora didn’t provide reasonable consent for the search.

As a result, the case against Cruz-Zamora was thrown out and charges were dropped. 

The Necessity of Certified Legal Translation Services 

When your firm or client needs help translating court documents, an app won’t suffice. Its work is too ambiguous for the precision of legal language.  

For accurate results that maintain the original text’s meaning, the language experts at LingArch recommend partnering with a certified legal translation service. These agencies can provide legal translators, interpreters, and transcriptionists for any project, big or small.

The legal interpreters and translators at LingArch have several years of experience in the legal translation service industry. These professionals have the skills and experience necessary to make informed, nuanced translations and interpretations every time. 

The best legal translation services will partner you with a qualified professional who is fluent in the language and dialect of your project. This way, they can leverage their understanding of the legal system and culture to produce faithful translations and interpretations. 

And unlike Google Translate, certified legal translation services are recognized by international courts. This official seal of approval indicates the work satisfies both legal and judicial requirements. 

Bottom Line

While automatic translation software might bridge the language gap in casual settings, it can lead to ambiguous language and mistakes.

Language fails between two friends can lead to hilarious misunderstandings. But mistakes in the court of law can result in entire cases being overturned. 

As a result, Google’s indefinite language doesn’t provide the accuracy required for high-risk legal proceedings. When it comes to court documents and testimonies, you need the help of a legal translation agency. 


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