Skip to Main Content
Printer Friendly

The Rochester Model Training Project: Assisting Women Who Are Abused in Our Deaf and Hard-of Hearing Community

Interpreters for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Litigants in New York State Courts: FAQs

July 1, 2005

Author: Amy Schwartz-Wallace

What is the law requiring courts to provide interpreters for deaf persons?

Judiciary Law § 390 applies to any party to the legal proceeding (plaintiff/defendant, petitioner/respondent) or for a witness. See the below text of the law:

JUDICIARY LAW § 390. Appointment of interpreter for deaf person
"Whenever any deaf person is a party to a legal proceeding of any nature, or a witness therein (emphasis added), the court in all instances shall appoint a qualified interpreter who is certified by a recognized national or New York state credentialing authority as approved by the chief administrator of the courts to interpret the proceeding to, and the testimony of, such deaf person; provided, however, where compliance with this section would cause unreasonable delay in court proceedings, the court shall be authorized to temporarily appoint an interpreter who is otherwise qualified to interpret the proceedings to, and the testimony of, such deaf person until a certified interpreter is available.

In any criminal action in a state-funded court, the court shall also appoint such an interpreter to interpret the proceedings to a deaf person who is the victim of the crime or may appoint such interpreter for the deaf members of the immediate family (parent or spouse) of a victim of the crime when specifically requested to do so by such victim or family member.

The fee for all such interpreting services shall be a charge upon the state at rates of compensation established by rule of the chief administrator; except that where such interpreting services are rendered in a justice court, the fee therefore shall be paid as provided by law in effect on July first, nineteen hundred ninety-one."

In what settings does Judiciary Law §390 apply?

Judiciary Law §390 applies only to proceedings in state courts (local criminal and civil courts, Family Court, Supreme Court, County Court, Appellate level courts). It does not apply to arbitration or administrative hearings of any nature.

Do hard-of-hearing persons have a right to a Sign Language interpreter?

Yes. Whether one is entitled to an interpreter relates to the extent of the hearing impairment. Persons who are able to hear as much as 90% of courtroom proceedings are entitled to receive a sign language interpreter in court.

What does "qualified interpreter mean"?

No specific qualifications are set forth in the statute. Determination that a particular interpreter is "qualified" is with the court's discretion and the court should engage in an inquiry to determine if the interpreter satisfies the credentialing requirements.

What does "credentialing authority" mean?

By law, interpreters must be certified by a recognized national or New York state credentialing authority. Certification by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) is required for all sign language interpreters seeking to interpret in New York State courtrooms.

Must a court provide other auxiliary aids, such as computer aided transcription or listening assistance devices?

Yes. The ADA requires the court to make the necessary accommodations to provide litigants with the opportunity to fully participate in court proceedings and the costs for providing these services must not be assessed to the individual.

This project was supported by Grant No. 2004-FW-AX-K027 awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. Points of view in this document are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.


Copyright © Empire Justice Center. All rights reserved. Articles may be reprinted only with permission of the authors.