Sign Language Interpreters In Court

Deaf or significantly hearing-impaired accused children may present unique challenges in ensuring that due process rights are protected.  It is clear that if a child accused of a delinquent act does not speak or understand English, he/she may have an interpreter to assist him/her, which is also true for the hearing impaired.  However, the level of fluency with the “native” language may impact how useful the interpreter actually is in the proceeding.  Many court participants have experienced the struggle of trying to combine sign language with written materials to try to ensure that the accused understands what is happening in the courtroom.  The question also arises whether all written materials used to communicate with the accused should be put into the record to be available in the event of an appeal.

An Interpreter Isn’t Enough:  Deafness, Language, and Due Process by Michele LaVigne and McCay Vernon discusses these issues and challenges.

In Indiana, there is a court interpreter certification program, administered by the Division of State Court Administration.  The rationale behind the program was stated as: “[a]udits of interpreted court proceedings in several states have revealed that untested and untrained “interpreters” often deliver inaccurate, incomplete information to both the person with limited English proficiency and the trier of fact. Poor interpreting constrains equal access to justice for persons with limited English proficiency involved in legal proceedings. Every state which has examined interpreted court proceedings has concluded that interpreter certification is the best method to protect the constitutional rights of court participants with limited English proficiency.”

As of April 2013, the Indiana Certified Interpreter Registry did not contain anyone certified in American Sign Language.  Other states have required certification for American Sign Language, as with any other language, such as Oregon, Utah, Wisconsin, and others.  The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf is a possible source of interpreters who are not certified by the Division of State Court Administration, but who obtained a Specialist Certificate: Legal (SC:L), which demonstrates specialized knowledge of the legal system.  There is one person listed in the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf with an SC:L in Indiana.

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