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Name: Vasquez v. Kirkland
Case #: 08-55699
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 07/20/2009
Summary

There was no denial of the right to confrontation where appellant had difficulty cross-examining a deaf witness. Vasquez was convicted in state court of first-degree murder. In this appeal from the denial of his habeas petition, he contended that he was denied his Sixth Amendment rights because he was unable to effectively cross-examine the prosecution’s key witness, Zapata, who was the victim’s mother. Zapata is deaf, cannot speak, and has never learned sign language. She communicates by a combination of signs, gestures, facial expressions, and lip reading. Vasquez argued that he suffered a complete failure of confrontation because the interpreters had difficulty conveying questions relating to time, color, past statements, and other abstract concepts. He was unable to cross examine Zapata about her prior identifications and statements, so that the prosecution was essentially able to obtain a narrative account of the events without impeachment. The appellate court rejected the argument, finding that the challenges in cross-examination did not rise to a deprivation of the opportunity for effective cross-examination. The jury could observe the difficulties in interpretation and weigh the value of Zapata’s testimony.