Why Google Translate Can’t Replace Legal Interpreters


“Google Translate is a useful tool with an alarming capacity for error.” That’s what a Pennsylvania District Judge wrote in his October 2021 ruling on a case that involved obtaining information from a Spanish-speaking driver through the app. The incident, which reignited questions about whether Google Translate is sufficient for requesting consent to search, has highlighted the need for legal interpreters in law enforcement.


Fortunately, remote options have made connecting with a legal interpreter faster and easier than ever. But before we dive into how remote legal interpreting helps ensure justice, let’s take a look at the use of Google Translate in law enforcement.


A Brief History of Google Translate in the Courts


In 2018, Ryan Wolting, a Kansas Highway Patrol trooper, pulled over Omar Cruz-Zamora, a Mexican native with a U.S. visa. Wolting used Google Translate to ask several questions, including whether he could search Cruz-Zamora’s vehicle. Upon obtaining consent, he found 14 pounds of cocaine and methamphetamine.


However, the fourth amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits search and seizure without a warrant or probable cause. That means Cruz-Zamora had to clearly consent to the search first. Yet the literal translation generated by Google Translate could be considered unclear. As a result, a Kansas court ruled that Cruz-Zamora couldn’t have clearly consented and granted his request for a Motion to Suppress evidence.


In 2020, another judge cited the 2018 decision in his ruling on a similar case, and agreed that Google Translate wasn’t sufficient for obtaining consent. This time, the judge didn’t grant the driver’s request to suppress the officer’s finding: a large package of opioid fentanyl.


That brings us to the most recent case involving Brenda Ramirez-Mendoza, a Spanish-speaking driver who was pulled over for speeding. This time, the mistranslation was captured by the officer’s body camera.


The Remote Interpreting Advantage


As you can see, Google Translate is not only insufficient for obtaining consent, but reliance on the app can change the course of a ruling. Yet waiting for an interpreter to arrive onsite is often impractical or even impossible, depending on the language needed. And that’s where remote legal interpreters come in.


Thanks to advances in technology, remote options such as video remote (VRI) and over-the-phone (OPI) interpreting are now accessible through a laptop or cell phone. With the Boostlingo interpretation platform, you can connect with a certified legal interpreter in minutes. All you need is an internet connection and a webcam for video calls. You can even use the Boostlingo app to request an interpreter through your smartphone or tablet.


Think Boostlingo may be right you? Contact us today to start your free trial!