Whether a person would make a good juror depends on a lot of factors. Have you been arrested? Are you scared of the media? Have you ever served on a jury before?
That’s exactly what both the defense and prosecution were trying to figure out down in Sanford, Florida, this week, as they questioned the 40 potential jurors for the George Zimmerman trial. The lawyers kept saying that they want “fair” and “impartial” jurors, but the truth is they want someone who is “partial” to a particular way of thinking.
INTERACTIVE TIMELINE: The George Zimmerman Case
For the defense, that means partial to Zimmerman’s case, weighing the evidence carefully and finding reasonable doubt. For the prosecution, that means partial to the State, finding proof that a crime was committed and convicting the defendant.
As a lawyer, you want one thing — to win. If you pick the right jurors, you will.
To shed light on the thinking process that led to the empanelment Friday of six all-female jurors, let’s look at the entire jury pool again. This is what we learned about the 40 potential jurors this week:
-10 had prior jury service
-Seven had been arrested
-One was afraid of the media
Do any of these factors make you a good or a bad juror? The answer is yes.
Prior Jury Service
Usually, you want experienced jurors, as long as they’ve had a positive experience. That’s because they know how the process works. One juror is a strong candidate, having served on four civil juries, once as a foreperson. Another juror has also been a foreperson, and two others both have criminal jury experience.
However, in this case, there’s the big issue of sequestration. None of the six jurors chosen — in fact, none of the 40 potential jurors — have ever experienced sequestration — and trust me, it’s no picnic. As one juror candidate stated in court, “I was looking forward to this learning experience. Instead, it’s turned into a nightmare.”
Judge Debra Nelson has ruled that the jury will be sequestered for up to a month. Forget about those barbecues and fireworks on the Fourth of July: You’ll be holed up in a hotel watching movies provided by the deputies watching over you. You’ll be housed, fed, transported and guarded by the State of Florida. You’ll be making $30 a day, cut off from your family, friends, job and the world. That’s a huge sacrifice and puts major stress on individuals and families.
One potential juror went so far as to bring in a note written by his family, explaining the fear and hardship they would face if he were sequestered for so long. The reply to that note was telling him goodbye, for cause.
Both sides hit the eject button on any juror who was squirming over sequestration. Neither side wants a juror in a rush to get the trial finished so he or she can get home.
During questioning, one juror candidate expressed a fear of the “media putting labels on us” and asked if the questioning could take place in private. He was also upset that the media keeps calling him “Mexican,” when the fact is that he is a U.S. citizen. I don’t blame him for being concerned. I saw him questioned in court and liked him a lot. I’m sure he’s a great neighbor, but he’ll make a lousy juror because fear is driving him right now. Not surprisingly, he was sent home, for cause.
Arrest record is a big deal because on some level, these jurors can relate to Zimmerman. They’ve been taken into custody and charged. If the charges were dropped later, they know that innocent people can be charged with crimes. They’d make great jurors for the defense, so the prosecution will want to get rid of them, particularly one potential juror who was arrested in Seminole County and claims to have been treated unfairly. He said that he won’t hold that against the State. Yeah, right… A bias against law enforcement doesn’t magically disappear when someone sits down in a jury box.
Under Florida law, people who’ve been arrested can serve as jurors as long as they are not currently under prosecution or a convicted felon without restored civil rights. Of the seven jurors who admitted to being arrested, all appear to be eligible to serve — but as I suspected, none of them made it through to the final six jurors.
Most lawyers will tell you that a case is won or lost during jury selection. I believe that. There were some red flags for both sides in the potential jury pool. Are they enough to keep Zimmerman from getting a fair trial? The answer depends, in the end, on who wins.