Requiring deaf mom to sign doesn’t violate due process

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A mother whose parental rights were terminated was not denied due process when a judge who couldn’t understand her spoken testimony required her to sign to an interpreter who then spoke her responses aloud.

Hamilton Circuit Judge Paul Felix terminated the parental rights of R.K., which the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed.

“Trial courts have wide latitude to control the flow of the proceedings and the presentation of evidence. In some cases, an interpreter may be required to ensure that the trier of fact hears and understands a witness’s testimony,” Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote for the panel.

“Here, the trial court could not understand Mother when she attempted to testify orally. As a result, the trial court required Mother to testify by signing to an interpreter, who then spoke Mother’s responses aloud. We conclude that this procedure did not violate Mother’s due-process rights,” Vaidik wrote. “We also conclude that there is sufficient evidence to support the trial court’s decision to terminate the parent-child relationship. We affirm.”  

The court acknowledged R.K.’s preference to communicate orally. “But we can conceive of no other method the trial court could have used that would have ensured that it heard and understood Mother’s testimony. And Mother fails to establish that testifying this way prejudiced her,” the panel ruled.

The case is In the Matter of the Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of: S.E. (Minor Child), and R.K. (Mother) v. The Indiana Department of Child Services, 29A02-1312-JT-1064.


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