Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Barring Deaf Jurors?

The Ohio Supreme Court yesterday heard arguments on whether a juror can be disqualified from a case because of a hearing impairment. The issue came up in a 2002 murder trial. Scott A. Speer was facing charges in Ottawa County for killing Jim Barnett. Barnett fell from Speer’s boat while on Lake Erie. The evidence included an audio tape of a 911 call. That led the defense to attempt to get juror Linda Leow-Johannsen disqualified because she has a hearing disability. She told the court she could lip-read if a witness faced her. The judge refused to dismiss her and Leow-Johannsen was seated. She voted with the rest of the jury to convict Speer of aggravated vehicular homicide. He was sentenced to four years in prison. An appeals court overturned the conviction and ordered a new trial because of she couldn’t actually hear the 911 call, despite the fact it was put into the record by a court reporter and Leow-Johannsen could read it. The appeal’s court said she couldn’t make a just decision because she couldn’t hear Speer's tone of voice, inflection, and demeanor. Now the Ohio Supreme Court is looking at the decision. A ruling against allowing Leow-Johannsen as a juror could effectively bar the deaf from serving on juries in the state.