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Selection of jurors in Zimmerman trial can make or break defense

ZimmTrial-1-600This is the second week of George Zimmerman's murder trial for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. The lawyers will continue jury selection through this week and will begin with opening statements once the jury is selected. A key difference in this trial compared to others across the country is that, with the exception of capital murder cases, Florida requires only six jurors for criminal trials. Most jurisdictions and states require 12 jurors for all felony criminal trials, which is a far cry from the six in Florida. In addition to the six jurors, there will be four alternates chosen to hear Zimmerman's trial.

Picking a Jury

As jury selection continues, both sides continue to have a difficult job ahead of them in determining whether jurors are being truthful about their beliefs, biases, or fears. Some jurors may be afraid to render a decision based upon the evidence because of the potential of violence when a verdict is reached. Jurors in high-profile cases face extra scrutiny due to the nature of the case and the national attention that the case has received. These jurors, even though they are only identified by their juror numbers, have the potential to be revealed to the public. The fears that they have may prevent them from rendering a fair and honest decision in a case such as this.

Other jurors may hide their biases and racist views in an effort to get on the jury for various reasons, including rendering a verdict based upon what they believe already regardless of what the evidence is. With cases of this magnitude, some potential jurors want to be a part of the process in order to obtain book deals or gain income and fame because of their involvement with the trial.

Juror Sequestration

Circuit Judge Debra Nelson, the judge presiding over the Zimmerman case, stated that she will sequester jurors during the trial. This is a fantastic decision because it will prevent outside influences from coming in to the jury's decision of a verdict. The jurors will not have access to news, Internet, Twitter, and other information sources that could taint their deliberations.

ZimmTrial-2-600Unfortunately, the Zimmerman defense team struck an early low blow by releasing photos showing Trayvon smoking as well as other photos — allegedly from Trayvon's phone — that showed a gun and a fight that Trayvon allegedly recorded.

In releasing the fight to the public, Zimmerman's team attempted to attack Trayvon's character and show as many negative images of him to influence the jury's decision. Afterward, the defense backed away from their claim that the fight was instigated by Trayvon or that he was involved in the fight, but the intended damage was already done.

One example of how this information can taint a potential juror's mind is when Juror E-81 stated during jury selection last week that Martin was "smoking pot, getting involved with guns, and learning how to street fight." Obviously, the defense team was successful in getting information that was not properly offered as evidence through court proceedings to jurors.

When a jury is sequestered, all information that they receive to make a decision in the verdict is supposed to only happen during the course of the trial. The judge will have motion hearings outside of the presence of the jury in reference to what evidence can be presented. Due to sequestration, there is no chance of them watching or reading news reports about what evidence they are prevented from seeing, thus eliminating that outside information from influencing their decisions.

But sequestration isn't foolproof.

I have been involved in hundreds of trials and cannot count the number of times jurors have admitted researching something on the Internet, reading information about the case in the paper, or doing their independent research, which is forbidden for jurors to do. Effective sequestration will help give this case the best chance of a fair verdict.

(Eric L. Welch Guster is founder and managing attorney of Guster Law Firm in Birmingham, Ala., handling criminal and civil matters, catastrophic injuries, criminal defense, and civil rights litigation. Mr. Guster has become a go-to lawyer for the New York Times, NewsOne, NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, Black America Web, and various radio programs about various court issues and high-profile cases.)

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