'He Got in My Face so I Shot Him': How Defendants' Language Impairments Impair Attorney-Client Relationships

45 Pages Posted: 22 Aug 2013 Last revised: 26 Aug 2014

Michele LaVigne

University of Wisconsin Law School

Gregory Van Rybroek

Mendota Mental Health Institute

Date Written: August 22, 2013

Abstract

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

LaVigne, Michele and Van Rybroek, Gregory, 'He Got in My Face so I Shot Him': How Defendants' Language Impairments Impair Attorney-Client Relationships (August 22, 2013). 17 CUNY Law Review 69 (2014); Univ. of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1228. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2314546

Michele LaVigne (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin Law School ( email )

975 Bascom Mall
Madison, WI 53706
United States

Gregory Van Rybroek

Mendota Mental Health Institute ( email )

301 Troy Drive
Madison, WI 53704
United States

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