Deaf man who was well over legal limit gets drink-driving conviction overturned

Deaf man who was well over legal limit gets drink-driving conviction overturned

A deaf man has had his conviction for drink-driving overturned on appeal after a judge heard gardai were unable to provide a sign language interpreter.

Gerard Doherty (42), from Glentain Manor, Letterkenny, Co Donegal, was almost three times over the legal drink-drive limit when he was detained by gardai in the town on January 12, 2012.

Mr Doherty was found guilty of drink-driving at Letterkenny District Court in March 2014, was banned from driving for two years and fined €350.

He had a reading of 143 milligrammes (mg) of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. The legal limit is 50.

In the first case of its kind before the courts, Mr Doherty appealed the conviction on the grounds he hadn't been dealt with in his "first language", which his barrister Peter Nolan told Letterkenny Circuit Court is sign language.

Gda Alan McKenna told Judge John O'Hagan he had arrested Mr Doherty as he tried to run away from his Ford car and soon realised the motorist was deaf.

The garda said he wrote down on a piece of paper that he was going to arrest Mr Doherty for suspected drink-driving and showed it to him.

He admitted under cross-examination from Mr Nolan that he did not write down the caution normally given in such situations.

Gda McKenna said that when he arrived at Letterkenny garda station with Mr Doherty he had requested that a sign-language interpreter should be located.

However, they were told by Harcourt Square Garda Station in Dublin that no one was available in Donegal.

Gda McKenna and colleague Garda Tom Regan both told the judge they believed Mr Doherty understood what was going on.

They both communicated with him by writing notes and that Mr Doherty had responded by writing responses, most of them signed "OK".

But Mr Nolan asked Gda McKenna: "Did you ask him if he could read and write? He can read his name and address and that's it. He is basically illiterate in English. Sign language is his first language and not English."

Mr Nolan said his client had not understood an offer to get him a solicitor.

Gda Regan admitted that in response to one question Mr Doherty had written: "I not understand what you think."

Both gardai admitted they had not been able to bring to court all the pieces of paper used for communicating with Mr Doherty.

Judge John O'Hagan said that an Irish speaker arriving at Letterkenny Garda Station is clearly told they can be dealt with in Irish.

However, someone with the disability of being deaf was not given the same right to be dealt with in sign language.

The judge praised gardai for their "valiant" efforts but allowed the appeal, adding: "I am not satisfied he (Mr Doherty) appreciated what was fully going on. I have a suspicion but a suspicion is not enough. It would be dangerous to uphold the conviction."