According to the National Juvenile Defense Standards, language barriers between defense counsel and young clients largely result from a few major factors: youthfulness, limited literacy, or the fact that English is not the client’s primary language. When youthfulness is the issue, counsel must take the time and effort to use developmentally appropriate language. When clients are not fluent in English, counsel should request an interpreter from the court to assist with pre-trial preparation, interviews, investigation, and in-court proceedings.
The commentary to Standard 2.6 Overcoming Barriers to Effective Communication with the Client also states that the prevalence of language disabilities amongst children accused of delinquent behavior is another major factor that can impact attorney-client communication, as well as child’s comprehension of court proceedings and judicial colloquies. In fact, two-thirds of youth adjudicated delinquents have language impairments severe enough to qualify as a speech-language disorder, which is likely to interfere with a child’s ability to fully comprehend and appreciate legal proceedings. Language processes and impairments can seriously impact communication between attorney and client, so it is important that defenders be familiar with how to identify breakdowns in clients’ comprehension and strategies to overcome that breakdown. For example, requesting a speech-language evaluation and using information obtained from a speech-language report may prove a valuable tool in defenders’ advocacy.
Additional Resources on Communication and Language Issues within the Delinquency Setting:
- Breakdown in the Language Zone: The Prevalence of Language Impairments Among Juvenile and Adult Offenders and Why it Matters
- Miranda Rights Comprehension in Young Adults with Specific Language Impairment
- Model Colloquies Innovation Brief
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