26. Courtroom issues
At some time in their lives, Deaf people are likely to be involved in some sort of courtroom proceeding—whether as plaintiff, defendant, witness, audience, or member of the jury. Deaf people’s participation in courtrooms, and equal access to the proceedings, is an ongoing problem—although considerable progress has been made in several states.
Although there was no stature explicitly barring Deaf people from jury duty, they were traditionally exempted. With the advent of professional ASL interpreters came the demand not to be exempted but to have the opportunity to participate equally in the jury process. Since there was prejudice against allowing an interpreter into the jury room (a prejudice that still exists in states such as North Carolina), Deaf people have continued advocating for their rights as jurors, so far without success. In other states, they have been accepted, taken their places, used interpreters, and done well.
Since the 1990s, at least, courts have taken measures to ensure Deaf defendants a fair trial. Deaf people accused of serious and capital crimes have been provided with qualified interpreters, CART (real-time captioned videos of proceedings), and privacy screens so they can have private conversations with their attorneys. Whether to be provided a Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI) along with an ASL interpreter is a controversial point, one that was raised during the 2007 murder trial of Daphne Wright, but at no point did she raise any objections or ask that the proceedings be halted and testimony or interpreting be repeated. Still, we recognize that for Deaf people with relatively poor literacy and a low level of formal education, a CDI may be the best choice.
Deaf inmates of state and federal prisons have faced numerous injustices, including limited access (or access denied outright) to TTYs and Internet relay, and limited or no access to educational programs and training. The struggle to rectify these injustices continues.
Equal rights for Deaf people in legal, courtroom, and prison situations are an ongoing battle that affects all of us. We support fair participation, access, and Deaf prisoners’ rights.