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Serving on Jury Duty as a Person with Hearing Loss

September 27th, 2013 by | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off

Written by Rachel Dubin

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Since approximately 2008, I’ve been called up for jury duty every two years like clockwork.  Every time, I’ve dutifully reported to the courthouse at the appointed time, summons and juror badge in hand, checked in, met the oral interpreter, and hung out with him or her in the juror lounge all day as announcements were made and juror numbers were called for the morning and afternoon jury pools.  And every time, I’ve either been dismissed along with the other prospective jurors due to a juror glut, dismissed due to my number not being called, or had my number called but was sent back to the juror room with my fellow prospectives because the plaintiffs decided to settle out of court.  In mid-October 2012, however, that all changed, and I – a bilateral cochlear implant recipient — found myself empanelled, or sitting on a jury — and as the forewoman of the jury, no less.

It’s not every day that a person with hearing loss serves on a jury (or is a foreperson – more on that later), but it IS possible.  It starts with filling out the juror qualifications questionnaire that arrives with the summons and sending it back, noting on the questionnaire the accommodations I need – in my case, an oral interpreter for the routine part of jury duty (waiting in the juror lounge for my number to be called) and for voir dire (the judge’s questioning of prospective jurors), and realtime captioning (CART) if I’m empanelled – and continues with following up via email (and sometimes telephone) with the supervisor of the accommodations office at the courthouse to make sure they understand my request.  It helps to have the name of the accommodations person and a good working relationship with him or her.  I am always prepared to defer my service if they have trouble finding an interpreter for at least the routine portion.  Fortunately, that has only happened once, but not due to lack of available interpreters – it was because on my original date, there was another prospective juror who needed an oral interpreter, and the logistics of sharing resources couldn’t be worked out!

So, in mid-October 2012 I headed off to the courthouse for the morning pool, not expecting a day full of surprises.  Surprise one: Almost immediately after being seated and watching the mandatory video about jury duty, my number was up and I was herded to the courtroom along with my oral interpreter and the jury pool for that particular case, made to line up once, then a second time, then ushered into the jury box.  Little did I know that I would be a juror about 20 minutes later.  The judge explained the case and then began voir dire, asking general questions of the jurors and then calling some up for more-detailed questioning.  None of the questions applied to me, so I remained silent.  After many rounds of questions and watching people be excused or moved between gallery and jury box, the judge decided he had a pretty good group of 12 men and women and announced that we were now official jurors for that case.  Surprise two.  To say I was stunned was putting it mildly.  But I was also excited at finally getting a chance to do my civic duty.

The case I served on was a criminal case; thanks to CART I was able to follow the entire two-day trial, from the lawyers’ opening statements, to the cross-examinations, to the judge’s instructions, to the closing statements.  CART was also present during the deliberations in the jury room.  If I had not had CART, I would not have felt confident enough to volunteer to be the foreperson, which involved keeping everyone on track, polling the jurors, and helping them come to a verdict (which must be arrived at unanimously).  As it was, I was the only candidate for foreperson, and was elected by acclamation — surprise three.  What a HUGE vote of confidence in my abilities to speak, listen, and lead from my fellow jurors, all of whom were hearing and from different walks of life.  It was quite an experience, mediating between opposing jurors, listening to people’s opinions and the debates we had on each of the defendant’s three counts, and taking vote after vote.  I could see that each person truly wanted to ensure that the defendant got a fair trial and that guilt was proved “beyond a reasonable doubt.”  We ended up reaching a verdict with about 20 minutes to spare before the end of the court’s work day.  Talk about taking it down to the wire.  It was an amazing moment to stand in the jury box, listen to and answer the judge’s questions, read aloud the verdict on each count, then listen as he polled my fellow jurors, and realize I had helped to bring justice according to local and national laws.  I don’t think anyone in that courtroom, even the defendant, expected the foreperson to be a person with hearing loss, much less one who uses listening and spoken language.

The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution grants everyone the right to a trial by a jury of his or her peers – and this certainly includes people with hearing loss.  It is possible to have a hearing loss and serve on a jury, as long as appropriate accommodations are provided; deafness should not be an excuse for deferral or dismissal.

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Rachel Dubin, MA, has a profound bilateral sensorineural hearing loss that was diagnosed at age five.  She is a bilateral cochlear implant recipient, having received her first implant in 2001 and her second in July 2010.

 

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