What are the minimum qualifications for serving on a jury?

Well, in North Carolina, not being deaf.  I lived in North Carolina for seven years, and there are some ways in which it’s perhaps surprising, for a Southern state: for instance, I don’t think it’s passed a “defence of marriage” act yet. But I had no idea that deaf people are excluded from serving on juries.  I feel betrayed by my temporarily-adopted home state.

Representative Rick Glazier has proposed a bill to change the law, permitting deaf people to serve on juries and ensuring provision of qualified interpreters. Last Thursday it was debated in the state House, and the prejudice, failure of imagination and total lack of awareness of how communication works just made me want to weep.

Here’s Rep. Ronnie Sutton in the debate:

Ladies and gentlemen, this is a well-intended, good-sounding bill, but let’s put it in real-world terms. A deaf person sitting on a jury is going to miss a vast majority of what takes place in a jury trial. The interpreter cannot interpret quick enough to describe the inflection of a witness’s voice and things of that nature. You know it just seems to me that this is really an example of taking political correctness too far. . . . If this is the case, why not blind people serving on juries? Why not quadriplegics serving on juries from their bed. You know, it’s just, that just shows you, in my opinion, the absurdity of having a deaf person on a jury. You know we don’t have quadriplegics running track. Nor do we need to have deaf persons serving on juries. . . .

A reductio which fails to reach absurdity, I think.  And Rep. Bill Faison:

…if we were to pass this bill, and I am sitting in a courtroom and a person who is hearing challenged goes into that box, I cannot, in the effective representation of my client, allow that person to continue to sit for the deliberation because they cannot physically, fully participate in the process, with or without an interpreter. Sometimes in the cases I do there are some medical terms. I’ve got to make sure people understand those. I will never know if that translator got it right or not. . . .

Seems to me he’s radically overestimating his ability to know whether his communication has succeeded in every other case.

The bill is due to be debated again today, Weds 22 July 2009, but I don’t know if I can bear to find out what happens.

(Many thanks to Linda Nelson on the National Association of the Deaf blog!)