Language Impairments and Attorney-Client Relationships

Any attorney who has been doing criminal or juvenile defense for any length of time will have stories of clients who seemed to participate in the attorney-client relationship reasonably well only to find out far into the process that there was a basic lack of comprehension about the process, an inability to communicate the client’s wishes for the case, or a myriad of other problems centered around language issues.

“He Got in My Face So I Shot Him”: How Defendants’ Language Impairments Impair Attorney-Client Relationships by Michele LaVigne and Gregory Van Rybroek, 17 Cuny Law Review 69 (Sept. 2014) speaks to the expanding research that has “shown that language impairments — i.e., deficits in language and language usage — occur at starkly elevated rates among adolescents and adults charged with and convicted of crimes….[W]ithin juvenile and adult correctional institutions, language disorders have been found at rates ranging from three to ten times that of the general population.”  The article offers suggestions for practitioners and others that go beyond seeking evaluations that may be cost-prohibitive for many public defenders.

For those who are able to seek evaluations, the Indiana University-Bloomington, Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences offers clinical services, including a hearing clinic and speech-language clinic that does assessments, and support groups.  In Indiana, licensing for speech-language professionals is monitored through the Professional Licensing Agency, Speech-Language Pathology Audiology Board.  There is also an Indiana Speech-Language-Hearing Association that sponsors an annual convention and other events.

See also Michele LaVigne and Gregory Van Rybroek, Breakdown in the Language Zone: The Prevelance of Language Impairments Among Juveniles and Why it Matters, 15 U.C. Davis J. Juv. L. & Pol’y 37 (2011)

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