Sunday, May 27, 2018
Opinion

Zimmerman juror is Exhibit A on hard task of jury selection

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

Comments
Editorial: Welcome Bayshore changes still canít stop bad judgment

Editorial: Welcome Bayshore changes still canít stop bad judgment

Itís human nature in following any tragedy to imagine: How could this have been prevented? On that score, the city of Tampa responded appropriately to the deaths this week of a mother and her toddler whom police say were hit by a teenage driver racin...
Published: 05/25/18
Editorial: Filling Rocky Point lagoon to build townhomes is an empty-headed idea

Editorial: Filling Rocky Point lagoon to build townhomes is an empty-headed idea

One of the worst ideas in a long time in the field of urban planning received a blessing this month when the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission approved a land-use change for a project that calls for filling three acres of water insi...
Published: 05/25/18
Editorial: Searching for the real Adam Putnam

Editorial: Searching for the real Adam Putnam

Send out an Amber Alert for Adam Putnam. The red-haired, affable fellow who has served capably as a state legislator, member of Congress and agriculture commissioner is missing. In his place is a far-right caricature who has branded himself as a prou...
Published: 05/24/18
Updated: 05/25/18
Editorial: A strong economic case for restoring voting rights for felons

Editorial: A strong economic case for restoring voting rights for felons

Floridians are paying a steep price for a system that makes it as difficult as possible for people who leave prison to reintegrate into civic life. Gov. Rick Scottís clemency process isnít just archaic and cruel ó it also wastes enormous public resou...
Published: 05/24/18
Updated: 05/25/18
Editorial: Trump right to cancel North Korea talks on nuclear weapons

Editorial: Trump right to cancel North Korea talks on nuclear weapons

Regardless of the reason, the cancellation of the U.S.-North Korea summit to address Pyonyangís nuclear program is hardly the worst possible outcome of this high-stakes diplomatic gamble. President Donald Trump was unprepared, North Koreaís Kim Jong ...
Published: 05/24/18
Updated: 05/25/18

NFL kneels before the altar of profits

The owners of the 32 National Football League teams sent a wrongheaded and, frankly, un-American message to their players Wednesday: Expressing your opinion during the national anthem is no longer permitted."A club will be fined by the League if its ...
Published: 05/24/18

Editorial: A positive first step in ensuring student access at USFSP

As a task force sorts out countless details involved in folding the University of South Florida St. Petersburg back into the major research university based in Tampa, ensuring access for good Pinellas students remains a concern. An enhanced cooperati...
Published: 05/23/18
Updated: 05/25/18
Editorial: Banks still need watching after easing Dodd-Frank rules

Editorial: Banks still need watching after easing Dodd-Frank rules

Legislation that waters down the 2010 Dodd-Frank law and was sent to President Donald Trump this week is a mixed bag at best. Some provisions recognize that Congress may have gone too far in some areas in the wake of the Great Recession to place new ...
Published: 05/23/18
Updated: 05/24/18
Editorial: Honoring our fallen soldiers on Memorial Day

Editorial: Honoring our fallen soldiers on Memorial Day

The rising tensions with Iran, the resurgence of violence in the Mideast and the uncertainty over a nuclear disarmament deal with North Korea combine to create an unsettling time this Memorial Day. These grave threats to peace are another reminder of...
Published: 05/22/18
Updated: 05/25/18

Another voice: The chutzpah of these men

A new phase of the #MeToo movement may be upon us. Call it the "not so fast" era: Powerful men who plotted career comebacks mere months after being taken down by accusations of sexual misconduct now face even more alarming claims.Mario Batali, the ce...
Published: 05/22/18
Updated: 05/23/18