Legal Blog

Discrimination Against Deaf In Court

17 June 2016 | Federal,  Legal Blog,  

Attorney Sean Hessler

Written by
Sean Hessler

17 June 2016

Federal,  Legal Blog,  

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A federal judge for the United State District Court of the Southern District of Indiana recently ruled that Marion Superior Court’s decision to deny an Indianapolis deaf man an interpreter during a child custody proceeding was a violation of Title II of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). The plaintiff, Dustin King of Indianapolis, sued the Marion Circuit Court back in 2014 claiming that he was entitled to an American Sign Language interpreter during a mediation session that was required as part of his child custody case.

Rather than providing Mr. King with an interpreter so he could participate in the mediation session, the Marion Circuit Court waived the mediation requirement. Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson, of the federal district court, ruled that the Marion Circuit Court intentionally discriminated against King on the basis of his disability when it denied his request for an interpreter and failed to provide a reasonable accommodation. The Indiana Attorney General has appealed the federal court’s ruling.

The King case is one of two recent lawsuits alleging discrimination against a deaf person in courtroom proceedings in Indiana. Steven Prakel filed a lawsuit in federal district court in 2012 when the Dearborn Circuit Court refused to pay for an interpreter so he could understand what was happening in his mother’s criminal proceedings. The Dearborn Circuit Court claimed that they did not have to provide an interpreter because Prakel was a spectator and not a participant of the proceedings.

Prakel’s mother ended up paying for the interpreter and he later filed suit for reimbursement of the money spent on the interpreter services and compensatory damages for discrimination under the ADA and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The federal district court judge ruled that Section 504 and Title II of the ADA did apply to spectators, but the case was ultimately settled out of court.

At the heart of both cases is the issue of equal access to the courts and the right to equally effective services for people with disabilities. Under Title II of the ADA, deaf and hard of hearing people are entitled to effective communication with state and local government agencies. Furthermore, state and local entities, which includes courts, “must take appropriate steps to ensure that communications with applicants, participants, and members of the public with disabilities are as effective as communications with others.”

Under 28 C.F.R. § 35.160(b), public entities must furnish auxiliary aids and services when necessary to ensure effective communication for individuals with disabilities. The U.S. Department of Justice regulations have defined the term auxiliary aids and services to include things like qualified interpreters, computer-aided transcription services, and assistive listening devices. Of course, the public entity may not charge the individual for providing such services.

How the Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyers in Indianapolis Can Help You

Criminal attorney Sean Hessler recognizes the challenges deaf and hard of hearing individuals face in criminal proceedings and he is committed to providing personalized customer service to all of his clients. He has a track record of successfully defending people charged of crimes in Indianapolis and the surrounding areas and he will fight to protect your rights in court. If you are facing criminal charges, contact the criminal defense lawyers at Hessler Law today at (317) 886-8800 to find out how he may be able to help.