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Zimmerman juror is Exhibit A on hard task of jury selection

Juror B37 speaks in silhouette with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on his 360 Degrees show. In voir dire, she said she consumed next to no media and stated: “You never get all the information.”

Screenshot from CNN

Juror B37 speaks in silhouette with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on his 360 Degrees show. In voir dire, she said she consumed next to no media and stated: “You never get all the information.”

Less than two days after a Florida jury found George Zimmerman not guilty in the death of Trayvon Martin, juror B37, one of the six members of the anonymous panel, signed with a literary agent to shop her book about the trial.

The news comes with a bonus video: juror B37's entire voir dire captured on film. The process by which counsel on each side of the case interviews prospective jurors is revealing in all kinds of ways, and a useful lesson in the strengths and weaknesses of the jury system. In the case of B37, it is also a master class on how to not know anything about something everyone else knows about.

Start with the general observations: B37 says she consumes no media beyond the Today Show — no radio, no Internet news and no newspapers used for anything but lining her parrot cage. Perhaps because she does not consume any media, she was under the false belief that there were "riots" after the Martin shooting. She also described the Martin killing as "an unfortunate incident that happened."

But the tape raises another question that should be debated in every trial advocacy class in America: What were the lawyers, especially the prosecutors, thinking when they seated her? Why didn't prosecutors use one of their peremptory challenges to nix her? She's contrarian, she raised serious ontological doubts about the nature of truth-seeking, and she was only ever truly animated on the subject of rescue birds. Both lawyers were visibly cowed by her. I asked several prosecutors, former prosecutors and public defenders to watch the video and report on the red flags it raised for them.

Almost all of them start with the same caveat: Jury selection is not jury selection. "It's de-selection," explains Howard Lidsky, a board-certified criminal law attorney in Florida. "It's impossible to make a judgment about jury selection unless you're seated in the room," he says. "You have 18 people in the box and just six strikes. You may dislike a juror, but you might like the person sitting next to him even less."

Robert Weisberg teaches criminal law at Stanford Law School, and he immediately wonders what it meant when juror B37 asserted that "You never get all the information. How do you form an opinion if you don't have all the information?" Weisberg sums up his lawyerly concerns in one sentence: "She thinks the world is one big reasonable doubt."

Gail Brashers-Krug, a former federal prosecutor and law professor, is a criminal defense attorney in Iowa. She said B37's devotion to animals might raise flags for her as well. "The animal thing is weird. She doesn't know how many animals she has, and she mentions her animals far, far more than her two daughters. She strikes me as eccentric and unpredictable. I never, ever want eccentric, unpredictable people on a jury."

Brashers-Krug has another reservation about seating B37: "She really wants to be a juror. She seems to be going out of her way to minimize the disruptive effect of a multiweek trial on her life. Jurors rarely do that. She is also taking pains to avoid saying anything particularly sympathetic to either side. Both sides tend to be very skeptical of jurors who are particularly eager to serve on high-profile cases. Often they have their own agendas or are attention seekers."

Watching B37 run rings around her interlocutors raises the fundamental question of what we achieve whenever we attempt to seat a juror who knows nothing whatsoever about a high-profile case. We are left with people who avoid any brushes with policy, law or politics, and — paradoxically — come to convince themselves (as does B37) that everything they will hear in the courtroom is truth.

Juror B37 is a reflexive doubter that truth and facts are really knowable anymore. She speaks for the millions of Americans who believe that everyone is lying about something and the news media lie about everything. The Internet, she explains, is for getting to the next level on Candy Crush Saga, not for getting information. And since everything is a lie, she doesn't care enough to learn that the riots she thinks happened did not.

One wonders whether she would buy her own book about the truth behind the Zimmerman verdict. As for me, I worry about seating jurors who believe that since everyone is lying and everything is a lie, facts are for lining the birdcage.

© 2013 Slate

Zimmerman juror is Exhibit A on hard task of jury selection 07/16/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 16, 2013 4:17pm]
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