What does placing your signature on the Miranda Waiver Really Mean?

By Jean F. Andrews

Jean F. Andrews is a Reading Specialist and Professor of Deaf Studies/Deaf Education at Lamar University.

Deaf suspects are asked routinely to sign the Miranda Warning Waiver affirming they waive their rights. What does this mean? For the police and detectives this means that the deaf person understands the six statements of the Miranda and read it with comprehension. When they sign their name on the waiver, this means they waive their rights to remain silent, seek an attorney before questioning and so on.

http://www.mlive.com/news/bay-city/index.ssf/2010/08/local_attorneys_police_weigh_i.html

However, the deaf person may sign their name and have a different view. A deaf defendant who may read at the third grade or below may not be able to read the Miranda. They may put their signature on the document simply to appear cooperative.

How can the detective determine if the deaf person understands the Miranda Warning? One way is to have a sign language interpreter present.

This rarely happens. Typically, police and detectives rely on written communication and lipreading which are rarely effective for deaf defendants whose primary language is American Sign Language (ASL).

http://agoraphilia.blogspot.com/2010/06/t-shirt-to-save-miranda.html

Two viewpoints–one from the detective or police and one from the deaf defendants.

The police and detectives run the risk of having their interrogation and confessions of the defendant thrown out of court or suppressed if they fail to provide for a sign language interpreter. This is not only Federal law but is found in many state statutes as well.
What is the answer?
More education for detectives and police about the difficulties deaf adults have in comprehending the Miranda and the ensuring of providing deaf defendants with sign language interpreters.

[Editor’s note: Recent changes by the Supreme Court involving the Miranda warning are worth noting. On June 1, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision to alter the familiar Miranda warning, adding a stipulation that requires suspects to outright state to investigators their desire to remain silent, in the same way they must specifically ask for an attorney. For more on this critical change to your legal rights, go here: http://www.mlive.com/news/bay-city/index.ssf/2010/08/local_attorneys_police_weigh_i.html or here: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/09pdf/08-1470.pdf]

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