How Much Accommodation is Needed for Mentally Impaired Suspect?

By William Peacock, Esq. on February 27, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Travis Folkerts is a mentally impaired man with an IQ of 50. In 2008, he was living on his own, with supervision during most waking hours. In May of that year, a neighbor reported that Travis had engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct with her underage son.

The initial responding officer, knowing of Travis’ limitations, read him his Miranda rights and asked him a few questions, resulting in an “Information Only” report to Officer Schneider, who followed up one day later.

Schneider again read Travis his rights and more fully explained them. Though he was aware of Travis’ impairment, he was not aware of its full extent and believed that Travis understood him. The two then headed to the police station, where Travis was interrogated in a conference room instead of the traditional, more intimidating interview room.

The interrogation consisted of almost all non-leading questions, as Schneider could tell that Travis could be easily manipulated. At Travis' request, his parents were contacted, and in concert with the officer, decided not to come down as they were afraid it would make Travis more nervous.

Though Travis made incriminatory statements, charges were dropped after he was found unfit to stand trial.

Displeased with the treatment of their son, Travis' parents brought suit, alleging a substantive due process violation, as well as violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. The lower court granted the defendants summary judgment on all counts. Earlier this week, the Eighth Circuit affirmed.

In order to prove a due process violation, one must show that a fundamental right was violated and that the government official's behavior shocks the conscience.

Even assuming a rights violation, there was no conscience-shocking behavior here. The Folkertses argue that Schneider (1) failed to accommodate Travis' disability, (2) performed an inadequate investigation, (3) investigated for retaliatory reasons and (4) made an improper charging decision.

Schneider altered his questioning style, re-explained the Miranda rights, and purposely chose a less intimidating room for the interrogation. He called and consulted Travis' mother. This does not amount to conscience-shocking behavior. Neither does an alleged negligent investigation (there must be intentional or reckless failure to investigate - a level not met here).

Nor does the decision to charge Travis, right or wrong. Schneider consulted with a county attorney prior to making the decision, which though not dispositive on the issue, was certainly persuasive.

The court also upheld the dismissal of the ADA and Rehabilitation Act claims. The Fokertses argue that the accommodations provided were insufficient under the two laws and deprived Travis of "meaningful access". The court held that no reasonable jury could find the accommodations unreasonable.

The defendants were not required to abide by best practices or to provide the exact same access as a non-disabled person would receive. They are required to act reasonably. The accommodations provided, especially the phone call to Travis's mother, suffice to meet the ADA and Rehabilitation Act standard.

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