Courtroom reporters sometimes incorrectly transcribe Black dialect, potentially distorting the official record in criminal cases, according to The New York Times.
“The larger implication is that people are not being afforded a sense of fairness and justice because the system is not responding to their language,” said Anthony L. Ricco, a New York criminal defense attorney.
The story cites a study where researchers played audio recordings of African American English for 27 Philadelphia courtroom stenographers. They made an average of two errors for every five sentences.
“The findings could have far-reaching consequences, as errors or misinterpretations in court transcripts can influence the official court record in ways that are harmful to defendants,” The Times reported.
The errors in court transcription reflect the impact of segregated communities. Black and White areas develop their own way of pronouncing words differently, said the article.
“I know that I didn’t do it so why don’t you just give me a lawyer dog ‘cause this is not what’s up,” said a Louisiana assault suspect.
The lawyer for the suspect wanted his client’s confession of a sexual assault thrown out, because he was questioned after invoking his right to counsel, reported The Times.
The Louisiana Supreme Court said that officers could continue questioning the suspect because “lawyer dog” is ambiguous, and he was not asking for counsel, noted the newspaper.
Court reporters’ training was faulted by researchers, because they only used classroom English and didn’t take into account what they were going to be hearing in court, according to the report.
“If the court reporters are missing the story, the jurors are missing the story,” said Ricco.
The court transcribers did not intentionally misinterpret the dialogue; their own discomfort was because of a limited understanding of Black dialect, according to The Times.
In a Philadelphia courtroom, a defendant said, “He don’t be in that neighborhood,” but a court reporter transcribed it as, “We going to be in this neighborhood,” the opposite of what was actually said, according to the article.
“People who speak African American English are stigmatized for so doing,” said Taylor Jones, a doctoral student in linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania and an author of the report.
The study showed that Black stenographers made mistakes at roughly the same rate as their White colleagues.