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Japanese Translation Document Is Not Hearsay, Says the Court

Japanese legal document translations and the issues surrounding certified document translations used as evidence often come up in federal cases involving Japanese litigants.

Recently, the Fourth Circuit Court of appeals considered the issue of whether a document translated from Japanese to English constituted hearsay.

In Hickerson v. Yamaha, Case No. 8:13-CV-02311, the defendants filed a motion in limine to prevent the plaintiffs from using English translations of a Japanese test report involving Yamaha waverunner. Specifically, the defendants sought to prevent the plaintiffs from using the phrase “safety contour seat.” In bringing the motion, the defendants argued that the translated report was inadmissible hearsay under Federal Rules of Evidence 801 and 802 because the translation of the term “safety countour” was inaccurate. The defendants also argued that the plaintiff’s expert witness lacked “the specialized knowledge to assess the reliability of the document” under Rule 703 of the Federal Rules of Evidence. Finally, defendants claimed that the plaintiff’s use of the term “safety contour seat” was overly prejudicial and violated Federal Rule of Evidence 403.

Plaintiffs, in turn, argued that the translated test report was admissible under United States v. Vidacack, 553 F.3d 344, 352 (4th Cir. 2009). The court agreed. Pursuant to the holding in Vidacack, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held that, generally, “an interpreter is no more than a language conduit and therefore his translation does not create an additional level of hearsay.” In determining whether an exception applied to the general rule in this case, the court enumerated four factors for consideration, including: 1) which party supplied the interpreter; 2) whether the interpreter had a motive to mislead or distort; 3) the interpreter’s qualifications and language skills; and 4) whether action taken subsequent to the conversation were consistent with the translated statements.” Id.

The Hickerson court applied these four factors and concluded that the translated document at issue was not hearsay. First, the court noted that the defendants had provided plaintiffs with the translated test report themselves, and that this fact weighed against any apparent motive for the interpreter to misrepresent the translation. Hickerson at 1. The court also found that they had no reason to doubt the qualifications of the interpreter that the defendants used to translate the documents they provided to plaintiffs. Id. In ruling that the translated report was not hearsay, the court held that none of the facts of the case suggested “significant doubt” as to the translation’s accuracy; therefore, the hearsay arguments discussed in United States v. Vidacack did not apply. The court also rejected the defendants’ argument that the plaintiffs’ expert lacked expertise to assess the reliability of the English translation.

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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