New Article on Miranda Warnings for Deaf Suspects
New on Westlaw: Aviva Twersky-Glasner, Miranda Warnings and Deaf Suspects: It is Not Just a Matter of Translation, Crim. L. Bull., Sept.-Oct. 2006, at 3. The introduction:
A police officer reading Miranda rights to someone can appear robotic. But there is nothing routine when the suspect is a deaf person. Deaf suspects can effectively lose their constitutional rights in the time it takes to raise an eyebrow. The conceptual and linguistic difficulties of deaf suspects-whose first language is often American Sign Language-cannot be overcome by direct translation into written English or manually coded English. English is primarily a spoken language. All hearing children of English-speaking parents absorb it unconsciously, starting from the moment of birth. They are surrounded with English; bombarded with it from all sides! They listen; they imitate. Effortlessly, it seems, they begin to put together grammatically correct sentences well before they learn to read. Children who are born deaf or early-deafened are excluded from this process because they cannot hear.
Deaf people thus face tremendous challenges within the criminal justice system. Foremost among these challenges is their ability to understand what is being said to them, as well as their ability to communicate their thoughts and feelings. This inability to understand and communicate is, primarily, linguistic, which has nothing to do with overall mental status, intelligence, or competence.
When confronted by law enforcement officers issuing a Miranda warning, a deaf person's behavior may deviate from the generally expected norm because a prelingually deaf person grows up in a world of communicational and cultural differences. The deaf community forms a "Deaf Culture" that is recognized by many as analogous to a minority culture. A deaf person cannot be fairly judged using the same criteria employed for a hearing person. The experience of deafness impacts a person's entire world. Being deaf means more than just being unable to hear.