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Bring on the Jury Duty!! (Unless You’re Deaf, Then We Don’t Want Ya..?)

Category:Federal courthouses of the United States

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This was my Facebook status earlier this week: Who just got a summons for jury duty at the end of next month? (Points finger at self) who is EXCITED about it?! (Jumps up and down and points finger at self!!) I’m fully aware that I’m the only person who’s ever wanted jury duty…and now I’ve been summoned 🙂

The institution of juries is an old one in some places, the United States being particularly known for them. Jury duty is the process of being a juror during a legal proceeding.

“A jury is intended to be an impartial panel capable of reaching a verdict, there are often procedures and requirements, for instance, fluent understanding of the language, or the ability to test jurors or otherwise exclude jurors who might be perceived as less than neutral or more partial to hear one side or the other. Juries are initially chosen randomly from the eligible population residing in the court’s jurisdictional area (unless a change of venue has occurred).”


  • The use of a jury is optional for civil trials in Australian States. Sometimes an accused person can elect to use a Judge-only trial.
  • The most serious crimes according to Belgian Constitution are provided a judgment involving juries.
  • The Constitution of Brazil provides that only willful crimes against life, namely full or attempted murder, abortion, infanticide and suicide instigation, be judged by juries.
  • In Canada, juries are used for some criminal trials but not others. In the most serious offences, such as murder or treason, a judge and a jury are always used, unless both the accused and the prosecutor agree that the trial should not be in front of a jury. Juries are infrequently used in civil trials in Canada.
  • The right to a jury trial has been enshrined in English law since Magna Carta in 1215, and is most common in the serious cases
  • Trial by jury was introduced in most German states after the revolutionary events of 1848.
  • Most serious criminal cases and some civil cases are tried by jury in Hong Kong. The Basic Law states that ‘the principle of trial by jury previously practiced in Hong Kong shall be maintained’, it does not guarantee that every case is to be tried by jury. In Chiang Lily v. Secretary for Justice (2010), the Court of Final Appeal agreed that ‘there is no right to trial by jury in Hong Kong.’
  • Juries were formerly used in India up until the famous KM Nanavati v State of Maharashtra (1959), which led to the abolition of jury trials.
  • In New Zealand juries are used in trials for all indictable offences and, at the option of the defendant, and in civil cases juries are usually only used in cases of defamation.
  • The jury was introduced in Norway in 1887, and is solely used in criminal cases on the second tier of the three-tier Norwegian court system.
  • Jury trials have been very slowly introduced in Spain, they before had no established tradition of using juries prior to the Constitution of 1978, that legislated the right to a trial by jury.

In the United States, it’s not an optional activity (if selected…). Try to casually bail after being chosen during selection and penalties such as fines are headed your way. Liberals have like to criticize the “duty” as an act of involuntary servitude. I for one am willing to volunteer up and down the street for this act of service.

Jurors can be released from the pool for several reasons including illness, certain prior unbreakable commitments,  change of address to outside the court’s jurisdiction, travel or employment outside the jurisdiction at the time of duty, and others.

As I read over the first time juror pamphlet I take note of the roughly half a dozen qualifications listed to be a juror, ending with the words, “No one is exempt because of his or her job, race, color, religion, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, or economic status.”

Take a moment to dig into history and you’ll learn like I did, pretty quickly the somewhat turbulent past that brought us to our current state of general non- exemption in jury processing. Times past show facts such  that it was only in April 1986 that The United States Supreme Court ruled that, “state and Federal prosecutors could not exclude blacks from juries out of concern that they would favor a defendant of their own race.” And in the early 90’s the Supreme Court was still questioning whether it was permissible for lawyers to remove potential jurors on the basis of their gender.

What I found most notable involved the more present tense truths, such as the issue depicted last year by a deaf British woman (also jury excited like myself) on UK’s the Guardian.

“When I received a jury summons a few years ago, I opened it up excitedly, conjuring up scenarios casting myself as a female version of Henry Fonda in 12 Angry Men, heroically leading my jury through society’s murky prejudices to deliver a landmark decision and liberating an innocent in the process. (I had a rather romantic notion of jury service back then.)

But something stopped me in my tracks. I saw that deaf people were included among “incapable persons” under the list of ineligible people. I was stunned. I’d just graduated from university and yet here I was, considered by the Irish court system as “unfit to serve on a jury“. What’s more, I was expected to meekly sign this summons and return it – in other words, agree to their exemption.”

(To continue reading about her click: here)

The deaf population falls into two main groups: the Deaf community and people who are hard of hearing or hearing-impaired. (Members of these groups use different modes of communication.)

“Members of the Deaf community in Australia use Auslan (Australian Sign Language) as their primary or preferred means of communication. Most were born deaf or lost their hearing in infancy before acquiring a spoken language. They do not regard themselves as disabled but as members of a cultural and linguistic minority with “a shared culture and a strong tradition of social, sporting and political networks at local, state, national and international levels.”

The deaf population spans the globe, and so does the juror involved legal process.  While America allows deaf citizens to take part, over the years there has been a lot of discussion and consideration world round of whether those inflicted by deafness should be “allowed” to serve in this way.

Reference back to the Juries Act 1976 and you’ll see on their list people who are ineligible for jury service. Section 6, under the heading “incapable persons”, includes persons “who because of insufficient capacity to read, deafness or other permanent infirmity [are] unfit to serve on a jury”.

In the summer of 2010, a case was brought by Joan Clarke of Ireland, Ashlawn, Athenry Road, Loughrea, Co Galway, on the grounds that she was unjustly excused from the jury service she wished to serve on, on the grounds that she was deaf.

“She claimed that the registrar’s decision was discriminatory, breached the Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights and she was entitled to serve on a jury via a sign language interpreter.”

As a result the judge did overturn the ban. A decision that reportedly made “an important dent” in the ban on deaf jurors which was “offensive and hurtful” to deaf people and had “no place in a modern and inclusive society”.

What has remained an unfortunate habitual belief and behavior is “the deplorable tendency on the part of the average citizen to assume that lack of speech connotes feeblemindedness”. Associated for centuries with words like “dumb” and “mute”, it is possible that deaf people are often mistakenly regarded as unable to comprehend and convey information.”

As recently as 2006, New Zealand and other countries prohibited even the use of sign language. There’s been an upheld misconception that sign languages were not real languages and therefore inferior to spoken languages. The Sign Language Act 2006 introduced an official recognition of the New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL). During the initial debates research discussion surrounded the linguistic research that they indeed found to confirm sign language as a real language. One with depth, a culture and validity.

The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination, but allows businesses and government to make reasonable accommodations for handicapped people. Reservations and apprehension surrounding permissible exclusion have focused on these concerns:

  • -accuracy of sign interpretation;
  • -the ability to evaluate evidence;
  • -comprehension of instructions;
  • -secrecy of the jury room;
  • -jury deliberation; and
  • -effects on length and cost of trial.

Research has shown that only 30 to 40 per cent of speech is visible on the lips, so allowing lip-reading isn’t feasibly a simple solution. And  perhaps un-realized by the average man, is the reality that there is actually no universal sign language. As with spoken languages, communities have variations (Kind of like how New Yorkers sound different from Southerners). Common features include hands, body, facial expression, space and direction, but they all have an effect on meaning.

Various accommodations can and are used to aid the deaf in court. Courts in New South Wales for example now offer portable infra-red assisted hearing devices that amplify court proceedings for those with person with hearing impairments. America makes available the request for a certified ASL court interpreter or access to a CART system. But still the questionable issues do not go away.

“Evidence has shown that jurors typically take their roles very seriously.  They generally approach their responsibilities as decision makers much in the same way as a court judge – with great seriousness, a lawful mind, and a concern for consistency that is evidence-based. By actively processing evidence, making inferences, using common sense and personal experiences to inform their decision-making, research has indicated that jurors are effective decision makers that seek thorough understanding, rather than passive, apathetic participants unfit to serve on a jury.”


As someone who does take the notion of service of jury duty very seriously, it’s great to know this is a widely shared feeling, and hopefully it won’t take more cases like this to get laws changed to allow people to want to do their part–actually be allowed to do it.

A state judge in Blair County, Pa., rejected JoAnn DeLong of Roaring Spring as a juror in October 1986.

“Ms. DeLong, who lost her hearing through a childhood illness, sued the judge, R. Bruce Brumbaugh of the Court of Common Pleas. She argued (and won) in Federal District Court in Pittsburgh that her exclusion was discriminatory and against Federal law.”

And ideally no more cases like this either…

Akron Beacon Journal, a convicted killer’s convictions were overturned because of a deaf juror. “The juror was honest during the jury picking process, about her hearing loss. The defense asked that she be dismissed; the judge disagreed, and let her stay on the jury.

She did not use an interpreter she only read lips, and sat next to a court reporter who transcribed the audio of a 911 call. The jury convicted the defendant who received time in prison.

Then, a District Court of Appeals overturned the verdict simply based on the fact the juror had a hearing loss. The appeals’ court reasoning was that the deaf juror could not fully understand the 911 call because she could not hear the defendant’s speech patterns on the 911 call. Now the case is in the hands of the Ohio Supreme Court.”

History is continually happening, and what once was no, will be no more. Sometimes it takes time to figure out how to do it best. In the meantime, shout out for the victories that have come to pass! (Like Ireland’s  2008 law alteration that removed the banning of deaf people from jury participation! woohoo!!)


About maggie.

Maggie Barnes is a nonprofit and for profit business content specialist / social media consultant; and social sciences web writer interested in everything from psychology and sexuality, to technology, race, and economics. She is passionate about good communication and information accessibility.



  1. Pingback: Bring on the Jury Duty!! (Unless You’re Deaf, Then We Don’t Want Ya..?) « MAGGIE BARNES - January 24, 2012

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