Linguistics and the Law

Robert Rodman’s thesis entitled Linguistics and the Law draws from the conviction of a Haitian-born American sentenced to 12 years for dealing cocaine.

“The verdict was based in part on a surreptitious recording of the drug deal. Although the drug dealer on the tape spoke a dialect of American Black English, and the defendant speaks English with a Creole accent, the State persuaded the jury that the Haitian disguised his voice by purposefully dropping his accent. His ability to perform this feat was attributed in testimony to the fact that he had been an interpreter for the United States Army in Haiti, and was therefore a linguist, and therefore understood ‘sound change’, and therefore could disguise his voice by dropping his foreign accent. This absurd chain of non sequiturs, and the resulting miscarriage of justice, is the result of linguistic naivety and would not have occurred if the court knew that an interpreter is not necessarily a linguist, and that sound change refers to the historical development of languages.”

“Language and the law, once a subfield of sociolinguistics, is now a robust, independent area of study, where lawyers and linguists collaborate to deepen their knowledge. It has spawned associations such as the IAFL that sponsor conferences such as the one for which this paper is written. International journals such as Forensic Linguistics, The International Journal of Speech, Language, and the Law have arisen in which an ever-growing body of scholarship explores the multifaceted effect of language on legal matters.

Most of the work in this field approaches the topic from the point of view of the use of language. For example, trial lawyers learn to avoid language usage that introduces unwarranted assumptions, such as “When did you stop beating your wife?” They do not learn about presuppositions and the logical structure of language. That’s linguistics: the science that describes and explains language.”


Economics of Criminal Law

Criminal Law and Economics applies economic theory to explain crime, law enforcement, criminal law and criminal procedure.


Potential criminals are economically rational. They compare the gain from committing a crime with the expected cost, including the risk of punishment, the possibility of social stigma, and eventual psychological costs. A criminal is an individual for whom the gain from committing a crime more than compensates the expected cost.  . . . Overall, it seems crime rates are responsive to changes in punishment.

The advantage of an economic approach to crime is that it avoids interpersonal assessments and is more of a neutral analysis.”

Nuno Garoupa, Introduction to Criminal Law and Economics, at vii, viii (2d ed. 2009).


The Time to Act is Now: Drone Delivery Systems in Haiti and Lessons from the Developing World

In light of recent discussions over the cholera epidemic and a pending class action law suit against the U.N. for “bringing cholera to Haiti,” this necessitates a discussion of preventative measures. More specifically, the use of drones in healthcare, and how they could have helped to lessen the blow dealt to the people of Haiti, almost 10,000 – but likely more – that have died due to the cholera epidemic since 2010.

According to the BBC, drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (“UAVs”), are often “used in situations where manned flight is considered too risky or difficult.” More generally, these agents have been used more frequently in combat offensives, often to target specific individuals with deadly fire or for the purpose of gaining intelligence on opposition forces. Commercially, drones have also caught the eye of companies like Amazon and Uber that have shown interest in using drone technology.

In the healthcare context, drones might be considered an untapped resource. This, however, is being addressed by the United Nations Children’s Fund (“UNICEF”) and the Malawi government to help streamline the often slow wait times and lack of medical supplies necessary to conduct HIV testing. Similarly, another African nation, Rwanda, has a similar program meant to remedy the issues with getting medical supplies to remote areas where infrastructure is not fully developed. Furthermore, the costs associated with drone delivery are relatively low; “[t]he UN agency is spending up to $1.5-million (U.S.) annually on the delivery of HIV blood samples in Malawi. The drones, by contrast, cost only a few thousand dollars each, and operating costs are low because they are battery-powered.”

Looking back to Haiti and the cholera epidemic, seemingly the moment to act is now. A program that uses drone technology to diagnose and ship medical supplies to the ill will be no doubt a large improvement to the status quo. Many areas of Haiti still are considered remote. More specifically, many roads leading out of the capital are not developed, making travel to a medical facility often an arduous task. For example, some healthcare practitioners state that:

Drones are likely to enhance healthcare delivery in developing countries and remote or impoverished areas of the U.S. While drones may not drop packages at the entrances of Chicago high-rises, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have delivered supplies to earthquake victims in Haiti and to places like Papua New Guinea.  Mayo Clinic predicts increased use of drones to transport blood products and drugs in response to mass casualty incidents and critical access hospital needs. Consider the benefits of drone-delivered defibrillators, organs, medications and medical supplies.

Thus, though the use of drones might bring up issues in the future regarding patient privacy, in the short-term,  there is hope that drone delivery systems could be instrumental in saving lives.


Magdala is a second-year law student at the University of Illinois College of Law. She is the first generation of her family to be born in the United States!

Haitian Lawyer Association’s 18th Annual GALA

The Haitian Lawyer Association, Florida Chapter, hosted its 18th Annual Scholarship GALA on March 12th, 2016. The event was inclusive, in attendance were various local and national attorneys, judges and professionals of diverse ethnic backgrounds. Among those in attendance was Garcelle Beauvais, the keynote speaker, a renowned Haitian-American actress who has been featured in various movies and sitcoms. During Ms. Beauvais speech, she analogized the work ethic that it takes to be successful  as an actress and an attorney. She mentioned that both professions require a lot of sacrifice in order to hone the necessary skills to succeed, and to be persistent when repeatedly faced with rejection.To cap off the night, the well known Haitian band T-VICE played several of its famous compositions as the crowd danced the night away.


Samuel Rony is a second-year law student at St. Thomas University School of Law. He was born and raised in Haiti.


Haitian Law Digital Collection


The Haitian Law Digital Collection in the Digital Library of the Caribbean includes historic through current Haitian law documents and related international documents. Contributors to this collection include dLOC partners in Haiti and around the worldLLMC Digital and its partners for the Haiti Legal Patrimony Project, and others.

dLOC is constantly adding new legal and law materials, as well as building specialized collections of legal materials. 

A follow-up with Ms. Christelle Vaval

Curious about the average day in the life of an attorney in Haiti? Read below:


Ms. Vaval is an attorney with Le Cabinet Salès in Pétion-Ville. Her areas of expertise are Civil law, Contracts, International law, Business Law, Labor Law, and Intellectual Property.



I can say the average day on the job is from 9-5. Some people tend to stay longer, but it is really a question of organization and maximization of the work load. 

The latest that I have stayed is 8 PM. Or, because of the insecurity I work from home, particularly when I have to draft due diligence reports.

What is the market for Attorney’s in Haiti? 

There are a lot of lawyers in Haiti. However, considering that Haiti is a small community, people tend to deal with lawyers who are known or recommended. Considering that I didn’t have the chance to have a parent as a lawyer, I have to meet people in order to build my reputation. That’s one of the reasons why I am actively involved in chambers of commerce such as AMCHAM HAITI, Canadian-Haitian Chamber of Commerce, and at the international level in ICANN, IABA, etc.

I also pay attention to the quality of the service rendered so people can come back or refer me to others. For me customer service is as important in the legal field, as it is in retail stores or restaurants and I have realized that sometimes, Haitian lawyers don’t know that.

So the market is there, it is really a matter of standing out from the others.

It is also important to note that the legal profession is still a “machist” country where it is more difficult for a woman.

How often are you in court, if at all?

I have decided to focus my career on corporate law. I usually go to court for administrative purposes. For now, I am not interested in litigation.

Where is the best place to find information about what is happening in the legal community, such as a website? 

If there is a place. I can’t tell. I do not know of any website that provides information on the legal community. I know that the Bar of Port-au-Prince is working on its website but it is not finished yet.