In 1983, Felix Garcia received a life sentence and a concurrent 99 years in prison for first-degree murder and armed robbery. There was no physical evidence connecting him to the crime, but his brother, Frank, testified against him — though he signed an affidavit in 1989 admitting that his testimony was false — as did another alleged witness: Garcia himself.
Garcia started to lose his hearing as a toddler, and by the time he testified at the age of 21, he was almost completely deaf. While he was incapable of hearing the questions being asked of him on the stand, he was provided no interpreter. Instead, he answered “yes” to each question. According to a 2012 Mother Jones report, when questioned about this behavior later, Felix reasoned, “If I say no, they’re going to think I’m stupid. ... Plus I wanted to get off the stand and go home.”
Improper treatment of deaf people by the U.S. justice system is exceedingly common. Garcia was tried before the Americans With Disabilities Act was passed in 1990, which required equal communication access be provided to all disabled people. In a new essay for the The New Inquiry, Sara Nović revisits Garcia’s plight to detail the patterns of systematic neglect and mistreatment that disproportionately affect the deaf, from brutal police encounters all the way to prison abuse.