State v. Kounelis, 258 N.J. Super. 420, 609 A.2d 1310 (App. Div.1992) held that in a criminal case the Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses requires the court to appoint an interpreter for indigent, non-English speaking defendants to be seated next to them during the trial. This is necessary to permit defendants to meaningfully understand trial proceedings and consult with counsel; otherwise, to such defendants the trial is nothing more than a "babble of voices." (Id. at 427, 609 A.2d 1310).
However, Kounelis did not address, as we now do, the question of who must pay for the interpreter. This defendant is indigent, speaks only Turkish, and is represented by the Public Defender who brought this motion to compel the County of Somerset to pay for a Turkish interpreter to be seated next to defendant during the trial.
In a trilogy of cases decided in December, 1991 it was held that pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:158-1, et seq., the Public Defender Act, the cost of ancillary services to defend indigent defendants in criminal cases shall be borne entirely by the Public Defender.*fn1
Matter of Cannady, 126 N.J. 486, 600 A.2d 459 (1991) involved the cost to retain an expert on Battered Women's Syndrome; State v. Arenas, 126 N.J. 504, 600 A.2d 467 (1991) involved the cost of trial transcripts for an appeal; and Matter of Kauffman, 126 N.J. 499, 600 A.2d 465 (1991) involved the cost to retain a psychologist to evaluate the defendant to determine whether he fell within the purview of the Sex Offender Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:47-1, et seq. These holdings strongly suggest that costs for interpreters shall similarly be borne by the Public Defender.
However, the Public Defender contends that the Legislature has provided otherwise with respect to interpreters by enacting N.J.S.A. 2B:8-1, which provides in part that:
[e]ach county shall provide interpreting services necessary for cases from that county in the Law Division and the Family Part of the Chancery Division.
Since all criminal cases are brought in the Law Division, the Public Defender contends that unlike other ancillary costs these costs must be borne by the County.
The County does not dispute that the defendant must be provided with an interpreter at the trial to assist him in his defense, but contends that N.J.S.A. 2B:8-1 has limited application and only requires counties to pay for interpreters at trials or court hearings, when necessary, to produce an accurate and complete record. In the usual case this arises when non-English speaking witnesses testify or when non-English speaking defendants appear at arraignments, pretrial conferences, enter pleas, or are sentenced. Without an interpreter on these occasions the court record would be incomplete. Moreover, to assure the accuracy of the translation it would be improvident to use an interpreter retained by one of the parties, and wisdom would dictate that the court retain its own independent interpreter. Thus, the County contends that the purpose of the statute is to assist the court, not indigent defendants, who are already sufficiently protected by the Public Defender's Act.
The history of N.J.S.A. 2B:8-1 is not very revealing of its intent. It replaced N.J.S.A. 2A:11-28, which was last amended in 1963, and provided in part that whenever the transaction of public business in the courts of any county will be expedited or improved, a Judge:
may appoint to serve at [his] pleasure . . . interpreters of the following languages, namely, Italian, German, Polish, Russian, Spanish, Yiddish, ...