In a victory for deaf rights advocates, a judge In Washington state recently overturned a DUI charge leveled against a deaf man who had not had the aid of a sign language interpreter during his initial court appearance.
The ruling brings an end to five years of legal wrangling for 33-year-old William Kral, who had spent years appealing his past conviction on DUI charges despite the fact that he did not have a trained interpreter assisting him during his DUI arraignment.
According to a report from The News Tribune in Tacoma, Washington, the nightmare began for Kral in December 2005, when he was arrested in Benton County, Washington on suspicion of drunk driving and driving with a suspended license.
However, when the deaf man was arraigned after his arrest, the courtroom did not provide a properly trained interpreter. According to Kral, the interpreter told him a document was simply a continuance of the man’s case.
The document, however, waived Kral’s right to a speedy trial. Due to the miscommunication, Kral signed a piece of paper that severely limited his rights. As a result, Kral allegedly signed a paper waiving his constitutional right to a speedy trial without adequately understanding the nature of the document.
At the time, the court overlooked this disadvantage, and eventually found Kral guilty of driving drunk. Kral had to serve a nine-month prison sentence, which included three months in an alcohol treatment program, and had to pay more than $4,600 in fines.
Over the course of the next five years, Kral struggled through several appeals, in which he was aided by several different court-appointed attorneys.
Finally, in August, an appellate court ruled that Kral had been denied his constitutional rights when he was not provided with a properly trained translator. The judge sent the case back to the trial court for a reversal of the decision.
This final reversal occurred last week, when the trial court admitted its wrongdoing by throwing out Kral’s conviction and ordering that the state repay the $4,600 he had paid in fines.
Such an action, however, offers little solace for Kral, who cannot recover the nine months he spent behind bars. To make matters worse, Kral’s prison sentence forced him to lose his construction job and his girlfriend at the time.
In addition, despite Kral’s painful ordeal, the district court seems to have failed to learn its lesson. In the recent hearing, Kral had to provide his own professionally-trained interpreter because the court still did not offer one to deaf defendants.
Thus, while Kral won his individual battle, it came at a great personal cost, and it appears that the court has yet to change its discriminatory practices.
Nevertheless, Kral and his attorney hope that the decision will eventually help improve the experience of other deaf defendants in Washington courts.