For years, blind people have fought for the right to sit on a jury. The common belief is that it would be difficult for a blind person to serve because he can’t see evidence or facial expressions, making it hard to reach a fair conclusion. However, the lack of sight does not hinder our ability to make a fair decision. We can hear testimony and reactions, gauge attitudes, and consider other aspects of a court case. In short, we believe that we can be objective observers. Practically ever since I’ve been old enough to vote, I’ve been receiving jury notices every three years. Despite my blindness, I not only believe that I can sit on a jury, but I would be proud to do so. I have listened to thousands of court cases over the years, both real and fictitious, so to me, the process in a court trial is easy to understand. This year, when I received my jury summons, I was finally given the chance to actually be in the court. Usually when I call the jury information line on the business day prior to the date of my jury service, I’m told not to appear, because they don’t need me. This year, things were different, and I went. On the specified day in July, I reported for jury duty at New Bedford Third District Court. Even though court is in session beginning at 9:00 a.m., all potential jurors were asked to report an hour earlier. Apparently, they had summoned 18 people, but only 17 showed up. I don’t know if the eighteenth person was ill, delinquent, or somewhere in between. After waiting in the lobby for a few minutes, we were all escorted to a conference room, where we watched a 16–minute film about juries and trials. During that time, the court official who showed us the movie approached me and asked if I wanted to continue with the process. I suppose he felt that I could use my visual impairment as an excuse to leave. I told him that I wanted to stay, and he said he would speak to the judge about it. Apparently the judge then said it was up to me. The group waited two more hours while all the cases were heard. If a case needed a jury, the entire group would have to go downstairs to a courtroom, where a jury of six would be hand–picked from among all 17 of us. At 10:30, we were all summoned into the downstairs courtroom, because one of the civil cases required a jury. There was no agreement between the parties, so a jury was necessary. Before the judge picked six people to serve on the jury, he asked all 17 of us the same questions: Did we know any of the parties or witnesses? Did we have a prejudice regarding the situation before the start of the trial? And so on. The judge then picked six jurors. One of the jurors was rejected, so he picked a seventh. After the jury was seated, the rest of us went back upstairs and waited once again in the conference room. At 12:15, the judge came into the conference room and told us we could leave, because all of the remaining cases had been decided one way or the other. The judge went on to tell us how powerful our presence was, because many defendants have a habit of asking for a jury trial as a means to delay their case, figuring that a jury trial would be rescheduled for a later date. If potential jurors are waiting, and if there are enough to form at least two separate juries, defendants can’t play the waiting game, because jurors are already on stand–by. You would be amazed at the number of people who tried to talk me out of jury duty. Many people wanted me to use my disability as a means to get out of it. I don’t think it’s necessary for me to get out of jury duty on account of my vision loss. I may not be able to see some of the evidence, but I’m a good listener and a good judge of the facts presented to me. In fact, I did declare hardship when I was first notified, but it was only a transportation hardship, because they wanted me to go to Taunton. I switched to New Bedford because it was closer, but never once did I discuss my blindness, either in personal dialog or in written correspondence with the Court. I may have been bored out of my mind while I was waiting to serve, but I was proud to perform a civic duty that is required by our democracy. I would do it again, and if I don’t get called in as an actual juror, so what? Along with everyone else who is summoned for jury duty, I have no way of knowing what’s going to happen after I show up, ready and willing to be a juror. Once I’m there, the decisions are out of my hands. It depends on who the litigants are, what the cases are all about, and what’s going to happen in those cases.
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