Deaf Man Found Guilty After Being Questioned with No Interpreter
March 29, 2022 Don Pumphrey, Jr. Criminal Defense Social Share
A recent legal matter highlights the dire need for legal system reform to provide equal protections for disabled or handicapped defendants. A Gainesville police officer did not obtain an interpreter for his questioning of a deaf defendant, and he was found guilty this week. In this blog post, we’ll examine the case and the circumstances that led to this result.
The Facts of the Case
On Tuesday, 24-year-old Quindale Holmes was found guilty of domestic battery. Let’s examine how this came about. In July 2020, a 911 call reported that Holmes and the mother of his child, Jadaisha Ramos, were undergoing a domestic disturbance. Ramos did not want to pursue charges, but the state still charged Holmes. The 911 caller also specifically stated to police that both parties were deaf. Gainesville Police Department officers responded to the scene but never requested the assistance of a sign language interpreter.
Law Enforcement Failure to Provide Equal Resources
Both parties later testified that talking to the police on the day in question was incomprehensible and they felt misunderstood due to the lack of effort on the part of the police to ensure accurate communication. Holmes testified that he did not understand his Miranda rights, essential protections pursuant to the Fifth Amendment that protects defendants by informing them of their rights during criminal proceedings. Even though no interpreter was used, and Holmes testified that he did not understand what was going on, Holmes’ gestures and his written statements alongside Ramos’ words were later used against them at trial.
Law enforcement’s failure to provide an interpreter was just one of the many failures in this case to provide disabled defendants equal protection in criminal proceedings. Ramos said that communication is difficult, especially with strangers, even though she can read lips. Holmes is even more disadvantaged as he cannot read lips or speak English. Both parties used American Sign Language to communicate, as it is their primary language.
The Language Barrier
American Sign Language is nuanced and can differ from English due to having its own grammatical rules. Some signs cannot be directly translated into English. This means that some deaf individuals, and Holmes, can struggle immensely with speaking, writing, and reading in English because many words and phrases get lost in translation.
Defense counsel read a letter during Holmes’ sentencing from his grammar school speech-language therapist, Lori Lazarus. The letter stated that, through grammar school, Holmes could never read above a 2nd-grade level.
When officers entered Holmes’ apartment, Ander Milman, a responding officer, held up a card with the Miranda rights written for just 18 seconds, pointing to each line briefly. During this tiny window allotted for a deaf man to read his rights in a language that is not his primary language, Holmes had even less time to comprehend since he picked up a pen Milman dropped and checked his phone. Milman then wrote “do you understand?’ on a notepad. Holmes nodded, later testifying that nodding, in deaf culture, is merely a signal that the listener is paying attention and recognizes that something is being said. The sign to signal “yes” is a completely different gesture with a different facial expression.
Later, Holmes testified that he did not understand and wished that someone could explain what it meant to nod at that moment. By Holmes continuing to answer Milman’s questions on a notepad, he was seen to have waived his Miranda rights. Here is the written conversation:
MILMAN: Did she hit you or did you hit her?
HOLMES: Just simple. Like slap.
MILMAN: You slapped her little?
HOLMES: When recent it rain outside she try to leave with baby while rain. Then I slap her head back cuz it not right for a baby outside. I try protect my son.
Holmes later testified that he was trying to say that he tapped Ramos’ head to signal to her that it was raining. Deaf people often use physical touch to alert the listener that they want to converse since yelling or talking cannot be heard.
Efforts Made to Help Holmes
Defense counsel moved to suppress Holmes’ statement to Milman, but that motion was denied. Holmes said, while communicating with Milan, he was waiting for his father to explain what was going on. But then Milman gestured for Holmes to turn around and placed him in handcuffs. Trying to communicate, Holmes cried out, as this is his only method of communication with his hands, his tools for language, cuffed behind him. Lazarus in her letter said this was equal to gagging a hearing person.
The officers’ failures are even more apparent after stating that they would have obtained an interpreter for the two parties if they had requested one, effectively putting the blame on the deaf defendants blindsided and unable to communicate. It is the responsibility of law enforcement to protect the public, including criminal defendants, especially those with known disabilities. In fact, Gainesville Police Department has a policy that obligates law enforcement to know of the U.S. Department of Justice’s guide for communication with deaf or partially deaf people. The document says that an interpreter will often be necessary for questioning and arrests. It specifically discusses what a head nod could mean, stating that
“[y]ou should be careful about misunderstandings in the absence of a qualified interpreter … a nod of the head may be an attempt to appear cooperative in the midst of misunderstanding, rather than consent or a confession of wrongdoing.”
A Troubling Pattern
Unfortunately, this is not the first time that GPD responded to a call without the assistance of a qualified interpreter. A few years ago, the parties involved spoke only a Mayan language and the officers sent Spanish-speaking officers, thinking that would be sufficient.
The Case’s Result
Holmes was not formally convicted. The judge withheld adjudication, sentencing him to a year of probation, anger management classes (offered in American Sign Language), and required him to make his “best efforts” to get an interpreter to complete an intervention program for those found guilty of battery.
Tallahassee Criminal Defense Attorney
Protecting your rights is essential during criminal proceedings. This is even more important for defendants with disabilities, handicaps, or language barriers. Ensure you are informed, protected, and defended by a qualified Tallahassee criminal defense attorney. Don Pumphrey and the members of the legal team at Pumphrey Law Firm will zealously fight for your rights and guarantee you have equal footing in the courtroom. Call us today at (850) 681 – 7777 or send an online message today to discuss your legal matter during an open and free consultation with an attorney in our team.
Written by Gabi D’Esposito