He refused to allow the officers to communicate with him through his daughter, and repeatedly asked to have a sign language interpreter provided. His repeated requests were repeatedly denied, and the officers arrested him based on statements from his wife, and on observations of a bruise on his wife’s arm.
When the CIL later interviewed him, using a sign language interpreter, he revealed that had an interpreter been provided at the scene, he would have told the officers that he had thrown a DVD at his wife, but had not intended for it to hit her. The bruising observed by the officers was consistent with her having been struck by the DVD. In the absence of provision of the sign language interpreter, the police did not have the statement to use against him at trial.
Upon his arrest, he was taken to jail, and spent the night in jail. The next morning, he was brought before the court, but no sign language interpreter was provided, as the corrections department had failed to alert the court to the need for a sign language interpreter. As a result, the court was put into the difficult position of having to choose to place him back into lockup to await the arrival of a sign language interpreter, or to communicate with him without a sign language interpreter. She did her best to communicate with him, and released him.
The prosecutor’s office reviewed the case, and offered him a plea – pretrial intervention and a domestic violence counseling program. If he attended and successfully completed the program, the charges would be dismissed. Had he been able to make his statement to the police, admitting to having thrown the DVD at his wife, perhaps the plea offer would have involved probation and the domestic violence program. Had that been the case, then if he failed to attend and successfully complete the program, or recommitted while on probation, he could have been sent to jail for violating the terms of his probation.
He then sought to enter a domestic violence program and complete the terms of his plea. He asked the programs to provide him with a sign language interpreter so that he could participate. None of the programs that had contracts with the court agreed to provide him with an interpreter. He languished in limbo, unable to comply with the terms of his plea, unable to benefit from the counseling program, and unable to receive the benefits of the diversion program.
Negotiations ensued between the CIL and the programs, and eventually, a program agreed to provide a sign language interpreter, and he eventually completed the program and the case was dismissed. Other diversion programs continue to resist providing sign language interpreter services, a problem that is widespread across the nation.
The CIL also spoke with the police department which had arrested him. The CIL discovered that the police department had never appointed an ADA Coordinator, never entered into a contract with a sign language interpreter company, and never trained any of their officers about interacting with members of the deaf community. As a result of the CIL’s advocacy, the police department designated an ADA Coordinator, trained him and other officers about the ADA and Section 504 (federal civil rights laws which prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability), and began the process of enhancing their relationship with members of the community with disabilities.
The CIL also spoke with the court’s ADA Coordinator, who agreed to enter into a contract for video remote interpreter services (VRI), available whenever needed and whenever an in-person sign language interpreter was delayed or unavailable. The Court found that the use of VR enhanced services to domestic violence victims seeking restraining orders, as well as cases involving emergency motions.
The denial of sign language interpreter services could have been pursued through litigation, and through complaints filed with the federal government, seeking enforcement of the ADA and of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
If you are a crime victim, witness, suspect, or incarcerated defendant with a disability in Miami Dade County, and would like more information about crime victims with disabilities, and information about the ADA, please contact us. For more information about crime victims, witnesses, and suspects with disabilities, please visit www.thearc.org www.ada.gov, and www.cavnet.org.
Marc Dubin, Esq.
Director of Advocacy
Center for Independent Living of South Florida
Marc formerly served as Special Counsel to the Office on Violence Against Women at the Justice Department (1994-1995) and as a Senior Trial Attorney at the Disability Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department from 1993-2005. In that capacity, he was responsible for nationwide enforcement of the ADA and of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 on behalf of the United States. He also founded and operates CAVNET (Communities Against Violence Network), a national victims’ rights network that shares information and resources among experts and advocates, across disciplines, addressing violence against women. Visit www.cavnet.org for more information.
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