Wrongful convictions are not rare–this impacts far more community members than you think. Here’s a way you can protect yourself.
VIDEO DESCRIPTION: Malik Morris, a Black Indigenous man with long natural hair slicked back into an afro puff ponytail. He stands in front of a white wall while wearing a black short shirt and signing. He signs in Black ASL.
Video Title: HEARD Statement on Wrongful Convictions of Black Disabled/Deaf People
Wrongful convictions are not uncommon.
Some of the common reasons wrongful convictions happen are eyewitness misidentification; police and prosecutor misconduct or mistake; old or improper science; false or forced confessions; and because of plea agreements.
Racism, classism, ableism and other oppressions play a huge role in wrongful convictions. In the 2017 report, Race and Wrongful Conviction in the United States, the National Registry of Exonerations notes that Black people represent just 13% of the U.S. population, but represent the majority of innocent defendants who are wrongfully convicted—with Black people accounting for 47% of the 1,900 exonerations listed in the National Registry of Exonerations as of October 2016 (Gross, et al., 2017). The report also notes that Black people are wrongfully convicted more often and exonerated less often due to systemic and structural racism throughout the criminal legal system.
Disabled people, including deaf people, have a much higher risk of wrongful conviction than non-disabled people. Deaf people are more likely to be wrongfully arrested. Once arrested and incarcerated, deaf people are less likely to be provided access to effective communication and support from attorneys and advocates due to barriers to communication access in the legal profession and in prisons. Some of these barriers include police, attorneys, judges, juries not understanding disability/deaf cultures and communication; unqualified people, including law enforcement and children, being used to “interpret”; most jails and prisons still not providing videophones, interpreters or other accommodations and auxiliary aids making it impossible for deaf people to communicate with their attorneys, maintain their mental and linguistic capabilities, or to get support from advocates who do understand deaf/disability cultures.
This means that the risk of wrongful conviction for Black disabled/deaf people is exponentially higher than white deaf/disabled people or than abled/hearing Black people, for instance.
HEARD has been investigating countless deaf people’s wrongful conviction cases for over a decade—mostly deafdisabled people. HEARD has noticed that in each of these cases, almost every step of the legal process is tainted because of systemic ableism within policing and legal systems. There are often numerous cross-cultural miscommunications and misunderstandings on top of the other factors that lead to wrongful convictions.
Black screen with white words: One way you can protect yourself
Video Description: A young light skinned latinx person appeared with a brown hair bun. wearing a black short shirt standing behind a white wall using ASL.
HEARD strongly urges all people to NOT talk to police during interviews and interrogations. Asserting your Constitutional rights to remain silent and demand an attorney is the first step in protecting yourself from wrongful convictions and to protect your right to the best chance at succeeding in your case. It’s difficult but very important HEARD also urges people to NOT sign any documents police show and to demand an attorney immediately. Even if police can sign your language, or if police provide interpreters, deaf people should continue to assert their right to remain silent and to an attorney. Stay tuned for a future vlog on this topic!
Attorneys also must provide qualified interpreters and other accommodations so attorneys and clients can effectively communicate confidentially OUTSIDE of the presence of law enforcement. HEARD also works to educate attorneys and judges about these issues but we recognize that these problems are systemic within the legal system so will not simply disappear. So all deaf/disabled communities must be aware of the dangers that the criminal legal system poses and try their best to protect themselves.
HEARD has ASL information about wrongful convictions of deaf/disabled people on all of our social media accounts. We also plan to host more online roundtable conversations on deaf wrongful conviction cases in ASL.
HEARD infographic on wrongful convictions of deaf/disabled people:
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