19 Sep Professor Michele LaVigne Presents on the Issue of Language Impairments
University of Wisconsin Professor of Law Michele LaVigne gave a fascinating presentation of the prevalence of language impairment in incarcerated adults and juveniles. Unfortunately, language impairment is rarely recognized and often misidentified as antisocial personality disorder or noncompliance. Language impairment can be a significant issue in every phase of a criminal prosecution – from interrogation to competency – but the biggest problem it creates can be in the overall attorney-client relationship. To make sense of the legal process an individual needs vocabulary, a fund of knowledge, processing, memory, and the ability to draw inferences.
So now what? Look for the signs – forgetting instructions, confusion with non-literal language, talking a lot but saying little, and not asking or answering questions. In an imperfect world (i.e. the criminal justice system), we must recognize the signs and make adjustments in the way we communicate with our clients. “You do not really understand something unless you can explain it your grandmother.” Do you understand?
Iris Eytan is a Partner at Reilly Pozner LLP. She practices Criminal Defense with an emphasis in mental health defenses.