Language and the Law
in Deaf Communities
The transcript of the interrogation prepared by the police department is quite telling of the kind of communication that occurred. The police department secretary typed everything she could understand. Unintelligible speech was marked by semicolons. Typical of the entire transcript is the following passage in which Detective Hickey is asking Jason where something occurred.
The communication difficulty between Detective Hickey and Jason is apparent. Something as simple and concrete as a location required numerous turns. Moreover, none of Jasonís speech was comprehensible. Nor did the interpreting officer voice anything Jason signed. In fact, throughout the thirty-one pages of transcript, all of Jasonís utterances were encoded as incomprehensible. And the interpreting officer only voiced one statement on behalf of Jason, which was ďJust pavement.Ē
Unfortunately, Jason Whiteís experience is not the exception in Ohio. Ethnographic interviews with area attorneys who have represented Deaf clients arrested on criminal charges, Deaf Cincinnatians, and interpreters in the Cincinnati area indicate that Jasonís experience is unfortunately the norm in Cincinnati. Police officers who are not trained as interpreters and who hold no interpreting certification typically interpret the Miranda warning and interrogation of Deaf suspects. The consequence is that Deaf individuals in the Cincinnati area, by not being informed, are denied their constitutional right to remain silent and their right to counsel. The resulting confusion and duress render these Deaf Americans susceptible to signing waivers that they do not understand, which waive rights that they do not know they have. But, for a judge or jury, the Deaf personís name or initials on the bottom line makes a waiver damning evidence.
It is doubtful that the trampling of Deaf Americansí constitutional rights in this manner is unique to these two jurisdictions. But, trampled they will be until judges, who ultimately control police practices by virtue of excluding tainted evidence, begin to think about the effect of interpreter skill level on the ability to interpret linguistically complex information.