Robert Tice-Raskin, Superior Court Judge Nevada County

Robert Tice-Raskin: Superior Court Judge Nevada County

Q: Up to 5 million older Americans are abused every year, and the annual loss by victims of financial abuse is estimated to be at least $2.6 billion. Elder abuse is a silent problem that robs seniors of their dignity, security and in some cases, costs them their lives. What would you recommend to combat elder abuse?

RT: Elder abuse is a very serious community problem that takes many forms: physical, sexual and emotional abuse of senior citizens; neglect and abandonment of our seniors, as well as financial exploitation of our seniors. I know, based on my firsthand experience as a criminal prosecutor, how devastating elder abuse is, oftentimes causing irreparable, emotional, physical and financial harm to our elderly community members. Combatting elder abuse requires concerted community effort. First, our community must have robust prevention strategies, including regular public awareness education, so that people know how to prevent elder abuse before it starts. Second, our community must have robust intervention strategies. Community members must know how to identify suspected elder abuse and also know how to promptly report abuse to appropriate authorities. When abuse is reported, many groups–including Adult Protective Services, law enforcement, the District Attorney’s Office, and our local Courts—must stand ready to effectively do their part to investigate and stop the reported abuse, remedy the short and long term harm, prevent the reoccurrence of the abuse, and hold offenders accountable for their misdeeds. Courts play a critical role in protecting the rights and the safety of senior citizens. With twenty-five years of experience as a federal prosecutor, civil litigator and/or judge pro tem, I stand ready to fairly, efficiently and compassionately administer the civil and criminal laws designed to protect our elders from abuse.

Q: People with intellectual disabilities only make up 1% of the general population, but 4% of those in jail. How do you explain the fact that people with intellectual disabilities are more likely to get in trouble with the law, and what challenges can they confront in the legal system in general?

RT: Intellectual disability is commonly characterized by below-average intelligence/mental ability and a lack of skills necessary for daily living. The question of why people with intellectual disabilities are more likely to get in trouble with the law is a very complex social sciences issue well beyond my area of personal or professional expertise. It goes without saying that this disparity is justifiably a cause for concern. Statistics, such as this one, lead me to wonder whether our society as a whole, including the justice system, is doing enough to ensure success and well-being for those who are intellectually disabled.

Individuals with intellectual disabilities can confront numerous challenges in the legal system. For example, the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and The Arc have issued a position paper which describes a few of the challenging problems that potentially can be faced by disabled individuals who enter the criminal justice system:

  • Failing to have their disability identified by authorities who lack the expertise to discern the presence of a disability;
  • Giving incriminating, but inaccurate “confessions” because the individual wants to please or is confused or misled by inappropriately used investigative techniques;
  • Being found incompetent to stand trial because the individual cannot understand the criminal justice proceeding;
  • Being unable to assist their lawyer in their own defense;
  • Waiving rights unknowingly in the face of required warnings such as Miranda warnings; and
  • Being denied their right to speak because their testimony is not deemed credible whether as a witness, victim or defendant.

I agree wholeheartedly with the concluding recommendation of AAIDD and the Arc: “People with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities must have the same opportunities to experience justice as victims, suspects or witnesses, similar to those without disabilities, when in contact with the criminal justice system.”

 

Q: What would reasonable accommodations in the courtroom look like for a plaintiff or defendant with an intellectual or developmental disability?

RT: Judges must ensure that individuals with disabilities of any type, including intellectual and developmental disabilities, have full and equal access to the judicial system. All litigants are entitled to their full and fair day in court and to be heard. It is a court’s paramount duty, thus, to ensure that disabled individuals have that opportunity to fully and fairly participate in the judicial process, like any other litigant. As a corollary, the courts must be prepared to grant reasonable requests for accommodation by disabled individuals so that court services, programs, or activities are accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.

Reasonable accommodations will vary individual to individual, depending on the unique circumstances of the particular party, his/her disability, and the actual accommodation requested. Accommodation may include:

  • the court, counsel and witnesses talking slowly or writing things down;
  • presenting information in a clear, concise, concrete and simple manner;
  • repeating information using different words, allowing time for information to be fully understood;
  • presenting tasks in a step-by-step manner, allowing the disabled litigant to perform each step after explanation;
  • scheduling court proceedings at a different time to meet the medical needs of the litigant;
  • providing a coach or support person at the proceeding;
  • allowing videotaped testimony or the use of video conferencing technology in lieu of a personal appearance by the disabled litigant; or
  • taking periodic breaks.