'He Got in My Face so I Shot Him': How Defendants' Language Impairments Impair Attorney-Client Relationships
17 CUNY Law Review 69 (2014)
45 Pages Posted: 22 Aug 2013 Last revised: 26 Aug 2014
Date Written: August 22, 2013
Language impairments -- deficits in language and the ability to use it -- occur at starkly elevated rates among adolescents and adults charged with and convicted of crimes. These impairments have serious ramifications for the quality of justice. In this article, we focus specifically on the effects of a client's language impairment on the attorney-client relationship, the constitutional realm that suffers most when a client lacks essential communication skills. The effects of language impairment can be seen in a client's ability to work with a lawyer in the first place, tell a story, comprehend legal information, and make a rational and informed decision. This article shows how these effects play themselves out within the attorney-client relationship, and the impact on the lawyer's ability to meet her constitutional and ethical obligations. We also propose concrete steps for improving the quality of communication within the attorney-client relationship. While attorneys will obviously shoulder much of the responsibility, judges and prosecutors are not exempt. A client's poor communication skills are not simply be "the lawyer's problem," but a matter of great concern for all stakeholders in the justice system.
Keywords: communication, attorney-client relationship, effective assistance of counsel, ability to assist counsel, competency to stand trial, due process, guilty pleas, narrative ability
JEL Classification: K14
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation