I have been jumping back and forth between this being a Note or a You Probably Should Know. The later are usually explanations of law or policy which is not exactly what this is, but I’m staying with it.
A interpreter sent me a private message about Rule 439 today.
Just as a refresher:
With her permission I will tell you that she asked me if this Rule was excusing audism.
I understand her asking this in light of the recent discussions regarding interpreters being paid as expert witnesses to offer expert opinions against the interests of Deaf persons (an issue that, it turns out, seems to go right to the top), it is a natural concern.
I asked her if she was thinking of a specific example where the interpreter faced with a lie during a police interview might cross into audism.
She asked if I would first give an example of where it was acceptable for the police to lie and an interpreter to knowingly interpret the lie according to this Rule.
A police officer tells the Deaf suspect that they have his accomplice in the next room and he is ready to confess.
Whomever confesses first, the officer says, will get the better deal.
This is a lie oft used by police when interviewing a suspect. It is used both when there is no suspect in the other room and when there is. If there are accomplices in separate rooms the lie is told to both of them in order to encourage them to be forthcoming.
This is not a problem.
This is a legitimate interrogation technique employed by police forces world wide and throughout history.
It is a two part lie, the second part being that the police can not control the kind of “deal” the suspect gets. That is a decision made above the detective pay grade.
I asked if that helped?
The interpreter said, “ok, but what if the detective tells the Deaf suspect that he will only keep the interpreter there for a short time more and so if he wants to tell his story, and have a discussion in a ‘civilized’ manner, now was the time to do it. But, if he just wanted to jerk [the police] around the police department was not going to pay for an interpreter while he did it and he could just figure out how to communicate on his own.”
I did not ask if this was or was not a hypothetical.
And um, THAT is a completely different issue than “lying” to a suspect.
This is not so much a lie (because the officer may very well have meant it when he said it) as it is a threat to violate the Deaf suspect’s civil rights.
In the life of an interpreter we sometimes are thrust into situations where we feel trouble is unavoidable.
Ninety percent of the real ethical screw ups we land in happen, in my opinion, because we are to apt to say nothing lest we say too much.
Ten percent are because we speak without thinking.
One of my Rules says that ethical questions are not about right and wrong, those are moral questions. Ethical questions are about more wrong and less wrong. No matter what we choose it will be “wrong,” but we are tasked with finding the path that is the “least wrong.”
In the situation raised by the interpreter who messaged me there is no clear path to the right answer, so I have to go with my own internal compass to guide me on the path that is the least wrong.
I will not be made a party to a civil rights violation.
The police officer in this example may very well be lying; he may have no intention of sending the interpreter away. But what he is doing is telling the Deaf suspect that his right to effective communication is contingent on his confessing to a crime.
It is not.
In this situation, taking every fact I was given at face value, I would take what many interpreters would consider to be the most drastic step possible; I would stop the interview and ask to step out of the room.
Outside I would tell the officer that, while I respect his position, I cannot be made a party to his threatening to violate the civil rights of the suspect, his right to effective communication, as a tool of interrogation. Carry on in any matter he sees fit but do not make me a party to it.
This may seem shocking or uncomfortable to some readers. But remember I did not insert myself into the discussion, the officer tore open my role by making my role a part of his threat.
I would then tell the officer he has a choice, he can rescind the threat, or make good on it and I will leave now. If I leave he can find another interpreter or let the possible civil rights violation stand in the record but, if asked, I will not hesitate to testify as to why I left.
Again. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. I just said, taking all the facts as they were stated at face value, that is what I would do.
I can back up my decision using the CPC (see: 3.8, 4.4, 6.2-6.3 and 6.6) but I measure ethical decisions using something my wife once said:
A woman can wear ugly shoes, as long as she knows they are ugly.
This situation (again I never asked if it was hypothetical) and its repercussions are ugly.
What I stated I would do is ugly.
But just because something is ugly does not mean it’s not the right choice.
I know why I would do it, and I can back it up with the CPC.
Despite not everyone agreeing with my choice, I would be prepared to wear those shoes right out in public.