Thursday, April 17, 2014

Defendant's Hearing Impairment Did Not Require New Trial

United States v. Crandall, No. 12-3313-cr (2d Cir. Apr. 10, 2014) (Walker, Cabranes, and Parker), available here

This summary was provided by noted criminal defense attorney Francisco Celedonio, who is also a member of the Board of Directors of Federal Defenders of New York, Inc.:

Crandall was convicted after a jury trial of being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition (18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2)). On appeal, he argued that his trial violated Due Process and the Sixth Amendment because he suffered from a hearing impairment that prevented him from fully exercising his rights. 

Crandall’s impairment was first raised at a suppression hearing where counsel informed the district court that “Mr. Crandall has a hearing problem, he does have his hearing aids in but he’s still having trouble hearing.” In response, the judge directed the clerk to turn up the volume on the microphone and instructed the witness to “speak up.” During trial, various references were made to Crandall’s hearing issues: Crandall complained of a “fuzzy noise” from his hearing device; on another occasion Crandall was admonished by the district court for speaking loudly to his investigator, at which time Crandall stated he could not hear the judge’s admonishment clearly. During his own testimony, Crandall asked his lawyer to push the microphone closer. At sentencing, Crandall claimed he “could not hear my trial, witnesses [sic] testimony, or the Judge [sic] ruling. I could not even communicate with my Attorney because he tried wispering [sic]and it was on deaf ears.”

The Circuit held that the Sixth Amendment right to participate in one's own trial encompasses the right to reasonable accommodations for impairments to that participation, including hearing impairments. But where a criminal defendant fails to notify the district court of the impairment, she is only entitled to accommodations commensurate with the degree of difficulty reasonably clear or obvious to the district court. Here, the Circuit ruled, the district court was not notified of an ongoing hearing impairment – a “continuous inability to hear the proceedings.” Rather, the district court knew or should have known only that Crandall had some difficulty hearing at times. Given that knowledge, the accommodations provided by the district court were commensurate with the apparent severity of the impairment. Accordingly, no new trial was required.  

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