Letter to the Editor
Silent News, Vol. 13, No. 3, March 1981
I am writing this letter to call the attention of the deaf community to a trial that took place on Friday, September 12, 1980. The case involved a prelingually deaf fourteen‐year–old boy, who was accused of an attempted robbery. The attorney, Mr. Andrew Vachss of 299 Broadway, New York City, whose specialty is defending cases involving juveniles, was contacted by the Westchester Family Court to defend the client. The success of this case was due to Mr. Vachss' determination to get a qualified interpreter in order to facilitate communication between him and the client. If it weren't for Mr. Vachss' interest and patience to see to it that the client be given a fair chance to prove his innocence, he would have not had as fair and complete a defense:
Mr. Vachss told me that during his first meeting with the client, he had no interpreter to help him get the information that he needed. He knew that the client was innocent and needed the correct information to make his presentation to the judge. He contacted the client's school, who knew the client and sent an interpreter for the third meeting between Mr. Vachss and the client. During the meeting, while Mr. Vachss was talking and trying to get the information he needed, he began to suspect that something was not quite right between the client and the interpreter. He observed closely and found that the interpreter and the client were not relating well with each other. He felt that the gap between him and the client was getting wider and wider. He did not have this experience before the interpreter had been called to work with them.
As the meeting went on, Mr. Vachss became more impatient with the interpreter. He felt that the interpreter was taking over and interjecting her own personal views and opinions about the client. He said that she made statements such as, "I think the boy is guilty, and don't believe him, I think he is lying."
He told her just to interpret and to maintain impartiality. He asked her to tell him what the client saying and she seemed to have some difficulty understanding what he was saying and wasn't translating the information he needed. It was at that point when Mr. Vachss decided that he had put up with enough of this unprofessional behavior, and decided to postpone the pre–trial hearing until a qualified interpreter could be found. After investigating further on what types of interpreting services were available, he decided that for the client's sake it would be best if he had a deaf interpreter. The client would feel comfortable and be willing to talk more freely to the lawyer through someone who could understand him.
A qualified deaf interpreter was finally found. She was able to relate with the boy and discover the pertinent details that the lawyer was seeking as well as providing information on deafness as a background for the attorney.
The point of this story is simple. Had the client been defended by a less sensitive, competent, and scrupulous attorney, the lack of understanding of the first interpreter could have cost the client his freedom. He was released, and in 6 months his record will be cleared. His attorney took the trouble to find out the facts and in so doing served justice very well on behalf of a deaf individual who might otherwise have gone to an institution.
It is time that the deaf community be represented fairly in court through the use of highly skilled and qualified interpreters of their choice, through Federal funding to assure them of their constitutional rights to a fair trial.
For further information, contact Mary Lou Conte at the Mayor's Office for the Handicapped, 51 Chambers St., New York, N.Y. 10007.
MARY LOU CONTE
New York, N.Y.