How do you prosecute a deaf, mute and illiterate man charged of running drugs for a powerful gang?
That's the question facing Philadelphia's district court, as a "relay translator" attempts to mime court proceedings to Juan Jose Gonzalez Luna, who does not understand sign language. Cops say he was found with 2 pounds of cocaine in his car.
Gonzalez, who mimed to lawyers that he lost his hearing in a childhood fever in Mexico, makes the perfect drug mule, prosecutors say. He can't answer any questions.
Jeremy Roebuck at the Philadelphia Inquirer tells the fascinating story:
"Arriving at a recent preliminary hearing, [Gonzalez] motioned toward detectives gathered around him. He pinched at his neck as if adjusting an invisible necktie. He bent his other arm mid-torso and clenched its fist, mimicking a heavy briefcase.
"'He can't talk to the judge,' one detective joked. 'But of course he knows how to ask for his lawyer.'"
Though the detective might be skeptical, up to 15 percent of deaf people who went to high school have limited to no language skills when they leave, Roebuck says. Courts and judges struggle to deal with the problem, sometimes sending the accused away to learn sign language in the hopes they can then face trial.
In Gonzalez's case, the court has resorted to interpreters who used "props, maps, and photos of cocaine and vehicles to explain to Gonzalez the charges he faces" at his hearing, which took three hours of preparation.