Jury service has been described by the Maryland courts as a responsibility and a right. Under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), and Maryland statutes, potential jurors who may have disabilities cannot for that reason alone be excluded from jury service. How the Maryland courts seek to address issues regarding jurors with disabilities was explored by Maryland’s highest court in a recent opinion in a case called Danny Trotman v. State of Maryland.
The Court of Appeal’s opinion indicates that Trotman was a state correctional officer charged with assault and misconduct in office. When his case came on for trial in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, 4 potential jurors told the jury Commissioner that they could not use or had trouble with stairs. They were sent as part of a prospective jury panel to the courtroom where Trotman’s case was assigned, which happened to be one where the jury room could only be accessed by climbing 21 stairs.
The trial judge called each juror to the bench and confirmed their inability to climb the stairs to access the jury room. As there was no other courtroom available, the trial judge over defense objection promptly excused those jurors for cause, to return to the jury commissioner. After the jury that was empaneled convicted the defendant, he appealed challenging the court’s exclusion of the four jurors.
The Court of Appeals noted that under Maryland law “a citizen may not be excluded from jury service due to color, disability, economic status, national origin, race, religion or sex.” Reasonable accommodations should be made where possible so that jurors with disabilities can serve. Clearly, the trial judge could not say these jurors could never be seated in a trial. Given that there was no available courtroom to accommodate their needs for this trial, the judge acted properly in promptly excusing them for service in this case so they could potentially be part of another jury panel in another courtroom where their physical limitations would not hinder their ability to serve.
Thomas Patrick Ryan is a partner in the Rockville law firm of McCarthy Wilson, which specializes in civil litigation.