Behavioral Sciences & the Law

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Volume 17 Issue 4 (October/December 1999), Pages 407-551

Deaf murderers: clinical and forensic issues (pages 495-516)


Data are reported on 28 deaf individuals who were convicted, pled guilty, or have been charged and awaiting trial for murder. The unique forensic issues raised by these cases are discussed, and their clinical picture presented. A significant percentage of these deaf murderers and defendants had such severely limited communication skills in both English and American Sign Language that they lacked the linguistic ability to understand the charges against them and/or to participate in their own defense. As such, they were incompetent to stand trial, due not to mental illness or mental retardation, but to linguistic deficits. This form of incompetence poses a dilemma to the courts that remains unresolved. This same linguistic disability makes it impossible for some deaf suspects to be administered Miranda Warnings in a way comprehensible to them. This paper identifies the reasons for the communication problems many deaf persons face in court and offers remedial steps to help assure fair trials and police interrogations for deaf defendants. The roles and responsibilities of psychiatric and psychological experts in these cases are discussed. Data are provided on the etiology of the 28 individuals' hearing losses, psychiatric/psychological histories, IQs, communication characteristics, educational levels, and victim characteristics. Copyright © 1999 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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