How Dialects Can Change the Perception of a Case
A recent study out of Philadelphia examined courtroom transcripts. They compared transcripts to recordings of hearings or trials and found that the transcripts differed markedly from recordings, when the witnesses or speakers were African American. The court reporters claimed to find it difficult to understand the African American English (AAE) and instead, wrote down what they thought the testifiers were saying.
This situation raises concerns for fairness and justice in the courtroom. The transcripts are what convey the factual substance of a legal matter on appeal to a higher court. This means that when the factual basis of the legal argument is misstated, the legal argument of the parties is made incorrect. Likely, most of the time the statements are close enough, but if they are wildly different the whole importance of the witness’ statement can incorrectly interpreted.
Examples of Dialects in the Courtroom
An example that was found was an instance where the witness said, “He don’t be in that neighborhood.” The transcript said, “We going to be in this neighborhood.” This is not what the witness meant, clearly being the opposite meaning, saying he would stay away from the neighborhood, not in it.
The court reporters may not easily understand AAE, nor is it accorded the same level of credibility to its speakers. This is a real problem, since the parties to court cases are selected regardless of their speech patterns, by random cross-section.
These stories are not unique to Philadelphia courtrooms but take place all accross the country. In Arizona, Native Americans and Latinos are other minority groups who us non-traditional English and experience discrimination in the courtroom.
The Importance of Attorneys and Court Reports Taking a Stand
In addition to educating court reporters on speech patterns and dialects, courts and attorneys must also be educated. Attorneys must educate their clients and witnesses on making their points in as clear a manner as possible. This must be done without the client or witness altering or misstating their testimony in an effort to speak what to them is an unfamiliar language.
If you or persons you know are in court and may have experience some of the issues above, make sure they have a lawyer like Vaughan S. Winborne who is aware of what needs to happen to assure justice is served.