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Deaf Man Denied Sign Language Interpreter at Arlington Jail – Pleads Guilty to Receiving Stolen Property After Alleged Theft Victim Says He Found His iPad

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As an Arlington Criminal Lawyer I am not fond of incarceration, I previously thought that that Arlington County, Virginia, jail a few miles up the road from me was one of the nicer jails to be jailed at EXCEPT for being able to see much of the outside while there.

Sadly, at that very jail, a deaf man, Abreham Zemedagegehu, who needs to communicated in Ethiopian sign language alleges that the Arlington jail last year denied him a sign language interpreter at the jail during the duration of his six-week incarceration for allegedly stealing an iPad (held pretrial rather than being released on personal recognizance or a bond he could afford), resulting in inability sufficiently to call or communicate with his public defender lawyer whose office is only three blocks away, missed meals, receiving pork against his religion, and insufficient health care. Mr. Zemedagegehu’s allegations of unlawful failure to accommodate his deafness and language situation is set forth in his pending amended lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Fourteenth Amendment before the United States District Court in Alexandria.

Mr. Zemedagegehu has a powerful pro bono team on this lawsuit, led by the Akin Gump law firm’s Larry Tanenbaum, who said: “To me, it’s a matter of human kindness. You see a person in your care who’s lost. How do you not help him?” Thankfully, even in these times that are much more financially lean for big law firms before the economy nosedived by 2007, many law firms, including such large corporate law firms as Akin Gump, are still investing substantial resources for pro bono work.

The sad story does not end there, because the Washington Post says Mr. Zemedagegehu entered a guilty plea to an amended charge of misdemeanor receiving stolen property (see county court docket) — amended from felony theft — after the alleged theft victim says he found his iPad. The Post reports that Mr. Zemedagegehu’s public defender lawyer alleged that the prosecution knew, before the guilty plea was entered, that the iPad had been found, but did not disclose that in time the defense. The court denied Mr. Zemedagegehu’s appeal as filed too late. Had Mr. Zemedagegehu’s appeal been timely filed, he would have been entitled to a new trial in the Circuit Court.

The criminal justice system is overgrown, and too often mistreats poor and otherwise disenfranchised criminal defendants unfairly through unfairly high rates of pretrial incarceration and such mistreatment as Mr. Zemedagegehu suffered. Such travesties of justice as befell Mr. Zemedagegehu will continue to be all too common until we shrink the criminal justice system, including legalizing marijuana, prostitution and gambling; heavily decriminalizing all other drugs; eliminating mandatory minimum prison sentencing; eliminating per se drunk driving blood alcohol laws; and eliminating the death penalty. Let our nation truly be the land of the free and home of the brave, and not the current land of the cops and home of the caged.