Braille Monitor               October 2022

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Objection Sustained

by Deborah Kent Stein

Deborah Kent SteinFrom the Editor: Debbie Stein needs little in the way of an introduction. She is a professional writer with many books to her credit. She is also a Federationist whose long and distinguished service would be the envy of any of us. For all of her accomplishments, the one barrier she has not broken is the one that stands between her and performing her duty as a citizen in participating on juries. Here is her story:

The morning I went for jury duty, I was braced for the challenge. Justice is supposed to be blind, but only a handful of blind people have ever been allowed to serve on juries in Illinois. I wasn't just there to do my civic duty; I was there to make a statement.

As I stood in line to be assigned to a group for selection, a hand seized my arm. With no introduction a woman ordered, "Come on. I'll give you a pass so you can go home."

"No thank you," I said, twisting free. "I just got here."

I had to say it twice more before she let me get back in line. When I reached the clerk, he told me, "Three C."

I followed a crowd of 3Cs to an auditorium, where we were told to wait. We waited for more than two hours.

Finally, a bailiff announced that the judge would speak to us in Room 214. As I followed my group out the door, another hand clamped around my upper arm. At least this time the stranger introduced herself. "I'm Sophie," she said. "The bailiff told me to take care of you."

"Let go of me, please," I said. "I'm fine."

Sophie let go, but she insisted on escorting me to Room 214. "I'll get you when the judge is done," she said. "Don't move."

Judge Matthias told us that being a juror is an important social responsibility. If we were chosen to serve, it was our duty to be impartial. We must not be influenced by outward appearances. We must listen to the evidence and make an unbiased decision.

As soon as he dismissed us, I headed for the door, and I managed to escape before Sophie came to get me. I followed the sound of pounding feet, found the stairs, and headed down. At the first floor I caught the rancid smell of cafeteria food, and when I descended to the basement, I followed the clatter of silverware. The line snaked out the door, but it moved pretty fast. The woman behind the counter dished up a burrito and fruit salad, and I loaded them onto my tray.

"What have you got?" asked the man at the register. "You gotta tell me. I'm blind."

"You are?" I cried. "Me too!" I reached for his hand and we slapped palms. He said his name was Thomas.

"I've got jury duty," I told him. "They tried to send me home, but I'm still here."

"Hang in there," Thomas said. "Don't let them take you down!"

Sophie caught up with me as I finished my fruit salad. "I told you to wait," she fumed. "I had to look for you all over."

"You didn't have to," I pointed out.

"I'll take you to the office now," she said. "They'll give you your check."

"Not yet," I said. "I'm due back in the auditorium."

In the auditorium Judge Matthias called on members of Group 3C one by one. He asked each person a series of questions. "Where do you live? How far did you go in school? What magazines do you read?" And finally, "Have you ever been the victim of a violent crime?" One by one people were sent to wait in another auditorium or told to go upstairs for further screening.

When my name was called, I stood up with my white cane in my hand. But the judge didn't ask me any questions. "Come with me," he said. "We need to discuss this."

I followed Judge Matthias into a back room. He introduced me to the defense lawyer and the lawyer for the prosecution. "Each lawyer has two peremptory exclusions," the judge explained. "That means either lawyer can say no to two jurors without giving any reason. But if I take you out of the pool myself, the lawyers won't have to use any of their peremptories on you. I just need to ask you a few things, to help me think this through."

No way was I going to serve. It was just a matter of who would exclude me. I remembered Thomas saying, “Don't let them take you down!”

"How could you understand the evidence that's presented?" Judge Matthias asked.

"I'll listen," I said. I couldn't resist adding, "Impartially."

"Other jurors take notes," the judge said. "I don't suppose you can do that."

"I'll take notes," I told him, "in Braille."

"Well, I suppose," the judge said. "But—but—I just don't feel comfortable. I have to take you out of the pool."

On either side of me the lawyers murmured in relief. Their peremptory exclusions were safe.

Hang in there, Thomas had told me. As I rose to leave, I said, "Your Honor, I'd like you to know a few things about me. I live in Chicago. I have a master’s degree. I read Smithsonian and National Geographic. And I've never been the victim of a violent crime." But not all crimes are physically violent. I wished I dared to remind him of that.

"I'll give this some thought," Judge Matthias said. "Maybe next time I face this situation, I'll make a different decision."

Sophie was waiting for me at the door. Of course she was. "I can get my check now," I said. "I'm done. For today."

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