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Court Affirms Conviction of Deaf Man Arrested in Georgia Sting Operation

June 5, 2022

The Court of Appeals held that the deaf defendant's rights under the ADA and to a fair trial were not violated despite less than perfect sign language interpretation during his trial.

In Hardy v. State, the defendant was arrested in a sting operation conducted by police officers in the Camden County area. The operation, called Operation Slumber Party, resulted in the arrests of five people, including this defendant who is deaf. Although the defendant was convicted and his conviction was affirmed by the Georgia Court of Appeals, there are some troubling concerns with the way in which this sting operation was conducted.

Tactics Used in the Operation

Judging by the arrests that were made, it appears evident that the tactics used by the officers may have been less than desirable for targeting actual predators. One of the first signs of a questionable sting operation is the fact that young people are getting arrested. When this is the case, it suggests that the police may be putting out the wrong bait. In addition to arresting this deaf man, one of the other four individuals arrested was a 23-year-old.

When we say the police may be using “the wrong bait,” we’re referring to the online ads and profile pictures that they’re using. Are these ads and pictures truly attracting people looking for minors? Or, are they attracting people looking for 19-24 year-olds?

In this case, the police used an ad that reads, “Stepdad and daughter in town looking for fun –mw4m.” There was nothing about the ad itself that suggested this was a minor. Plus, as the Court pointed out in its decision, the abbreviation at the end stands for “man and woman…looking for another man.”

Then, after the defendant and the detective began conversing, the female detective (presumably in her 20’s) sent a picture of herself purporting to be the stepdaughter. This is a very common but confusing tactic used by the police. Because right after sending the defendant a picture of a woman in her 20’s, the detective then tells the defendant that she is only 15.

The defendant was obviously confused by this as he responded with “Do you have another pic of her? Whoa I didn’t know she wasn’t legal.” These are hardly the things that a true predator would be saying. The defendant testified at trial that he truly believed the “stepdaughter” was an adult.

The Issues on Appeal

Unfortunately, the issues on appeal did not address the tactics used in the sting operation nor whether the defendant was innocent or entrapped by the police. Rather, they focused on the violation of his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The defendant claimed on appeal that he could not comprehend a good portion of the sign language from the court-appointed interpreters. He contended that there were obvious issues with the interpreters and the trial court failed to take any corrective action to ensure that the defendant could understand the proceedings.

At the outset, the Court of Appeals noted that defendants are not necessarily entitled to a perfect interpretation since some degree of error is always anticipated. So, the question is whether the errors were so significant that they deprived the defendant of his right to a fair trial. The second question is whether or not the error was preserved for appeal.

As to the second question, the Court found that the defendant had waived the issue for appeal since he never made a formal objection to the interpretation in the trial court. The record showed that there were many times when the defendant stated that he could not understand the sign language, however, each of those times, the issue was eventually remedied by the interpreter. The defendant never contended in the trial court that his right to a fair trial or his rights under the ADA were being violated.

Plus, the Court noted that since the interpreters were able to provide clarification any time there was confusion, it could not be said that these defects prejudiced the defendant. The Court rejected the defendant’s claim that prejudice should be presumed if violations of the ADA took place.

Lastly, the defendant made a few claims that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to protect his rights under the ADA, for not filing a demurrer to the indictment, and for not making a motion for directed verdict of acquittal based on an alleged variance between the indictment and the evidence at trial. Each of these claims was rejected by the Court of Appeals.

As a result, the Court found that there were no errors at trial that affected the outcome or prejudiced the defendant’s rights. Therefore, the Court affirmed the defendant’s convictions for the offenses of computer pornography/exploitation and attempted child molestation.

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