Every time I have been called to the courthouse for jury duty I have been released, only a couple of times making it so far as the venire, or jury pool in a particular case, but asked few questions and informed I was not wanted. Lawyers have to explain to venire persons time and again that just because the attorneys, or one of them, feel the person would not make a "good" juror in that particular case does not mean they would not be a "good" juror in some other case. Illustrations often include such things as saying that the defendant is employed as a telephone salesperson and if the venire, like the defense lawyer, dislikes being interrupted for telephone solitications, then they, both the lawyer and the venireperson, probably would not make a "good" juror in that particular case.
Attorneys also tell the venire that they are "not trying to pry into your personal life," though they cannot honestly tell them they will not pry into their opinions. However, when they do this, lawyers find ways of framing their questions designed to coax from the potential juror their "feelings" about this or that, their "thinking on it," &c., hoping to embarrass no one but at the same time seeking a rather candid answer that reveals biases or prejudices. Wisely, in the George Zimmerman trial now entering the defense presentation in Florida, the jurors were all questioned individually outside the presence of the other members of the venire. This is a greater guarantee of honest responses, free of intimidation or peer group influences. Had I been among those on the venire, sworn to speak the truth, I probably would not have made it out of this preliminary interrogation.
When I learned that Zimmerman was planning on relying on the defense of self-defense based upon Florida's stand-your-ground law (itself very problematic for me), I thought, He's got to be kidding! That was because I had heard his 911 call with its crypto-racist remarks and his refusal to do what the dispatcher told him when Zimmerman said "Yeah" in response to the question, "You're not following him are you?" Zimmerman became the stalker and aggressor. To me, this is manslaughter at a minimum. Although I rather doubt the prosecution can hang a murder conviction on Zimmerman, the jury's failure to return a guilty verdict on the lesser included offense of manslaughter will be very troubling.
Lest it be said that because I would be reluctant to vote for a verdict of murder, I might be a "good" juror for the defense. Not so. There is another reason why I could not hope to be fair and impartial toward Mr. Zimmerman.
The Hannity interview.
Zimmerman went on Hannity, bad enough in and of itself given that jackass of a host, and told the Fox News audience that his shooting of Trayvon Martin's -- the teenager's death -- had been "God's plan."
That's right. God killed Trayvon, not George Zimmerman. But if God had a plan to kill Trayvon Martin, why did God not prevent the killing? If Zimmerman had remained in his car and obeyed the dispatcher, would that have been God's decision? Unwittingly, Zimmerman became on the Hannity show an object lesson in the truth of Epicurius's observation that God cannot possibly exist if he is anything like he is most often described -- as both good and as omnipotent. God could have kept a 17-year-old boy with a package of Skittles and a can of iced tea alive that night, but he did not. God put a gun into the hand of George Zimmerman and sent him forth to take a human life. This is the God of the Old Testament on steroids, slaying indiscriminately for reasons that cannot often if ever be described as "good."
No, I did not belong on George Zimmerman's jury. And I am glad I do not live in that county in Florida, for if I did, and if called to a venire, I would not be remotely tempted to fake an open mind in order to get on Zimmerman's jury. Nothing I have heard so far suggests to me that this defendant is a scoundrel and should be punished.
What makes you think some of them aren't?
You are almost describing the British system. Lawyers present the cases, but the judge is permitted to summarize the evidence and comment on its weight and persuasiveness. Criminal cases are tried to juries, yes, but the British system is more like our federal courts. I got a guy off in federal court on a cocaine delivery case and was shocked when my client started to leave the courtroom, a free man, and the judge called him back and told him off, saying things like, "You may have fooled that jury, son, but I know you delivered cocaine...." This is not permitted in our state courts. It happens, but it can get a state judge reprimanded by the state judicial commission.
James, I copied your original statement, "Nothing I have heard so far suggests to me that this defendant is a scoundrel and should be punished."
I was puzzled how you came to that conclusion.
Your most recent statement makes sense to me. Thanks for clarifying.
"nothing I've heard so far indicates that he is not a scoundrel...."
I am saying that I meant to write: "Noting I've heard so far suggests to me that this defendant is anything BUT a scondrel....." At least, that is what I THINK I mean. Damn, you are getting me confused!
My beloved uncle was a Superior Court judge and some of my favorite memories from childhood were sitting at his dining room table listening to him proclaim the virtues of democracy, USA being a nation of laws not men, and the rights and responsibilities of citizens.
When faced with some tough choices and went to him for advice about how I could protect my children and myself from physical and emotional abuse. He started to explain law to me, then turned into a rage and said, "That is the problem with our country, we gave women and niggers the right to the vote!" I was stunned, I had no idea he held these views. If he revealed these values to me as a child I didn't get it.
Later, teaching in our local community college Displaced Homemaker Program, many women came into my classes very skeptical of me. Many of them asked me why I was so strong in my condemnation of courts, laws and law enforcement, especially since my uncle had made dreadful decisions in their divorces. His prejudice, his bigotry lived out in the ways he managed his court.
Judges, lawyers, and law enforcement personnel with such biases provide poor protection for women and children and some have not been held accountable. My uncle never was, except for the scorn I and his daughter held for his sexism and racism. My last memory of him was him sitting at his desk reading the bible with his pointer-finger moving word by word, line by line.
My defiance against my family and the institutions that are supposed to protect the weak from the strong solidified during that period of my life.
Glad you did not dance around the N word. There is no better way to illustrate racism than using it, but of course use of it is not P.C. so it can get you into trouble.
I'm not going to pretend that the following is fully balanced or impartial, and I doubt the reporter delivering this piece would say so, either. What I WILL say is:
Submitted for your approval ... or not:
I do not know Florida homicide law, but I doubt they have negligent homicide, but if they have something akin to "criminal negligence" it certainly would have carried a much lighter sentence than 2nd degree murder, even, probably, than manslaughter. I do know that the Florida definition of manslaughter is unnecessarily complex; in my state, it is this simple: did the person cause death by a reckless act? I emphasize "reckless" because that "culpable mental state" is a whole lot less hard to prove than intent, which it seems to me both of the offenses in Florida require. In other words, the jury could easily have arrived at the not guilty verdict simply by saying, "He didn't intend to kill Trayvon Martin." In my state, where recklessness is the gauge of manslaughter, a mental state much less than intent, Zimmers would have been convicted. I suspect that defense attorneys like Mark Garagos who criticize the prosecution for overreaching are correct. Under the Florida law, especially with "stand your ground," they do not consider all the events leading up to the act itself, only the moment when the shooting takes place; obviously, the jury bought the defense theory that Zimmers feared for his life.
Oh! I know the drill, assassinate the character of an unarmed dead boy, justifying the shooting by a vigilante law-enforcement wanna-be. I don't buy it. Trayvon was a kid. Kids do dumb things. He didn't carry a gun and shoot a faux cop. He carried a snack and reacted to being followed. What would any well-trained, professional police officer have done?
No the crime was not Trayvon's. The shame is on the shooter.
Did you hear the anonymous juror on Anderson Cooper, a woman who wanted to write a book about her jury experience, say that Trayvon should have retreated when he saw Zimmers coming? I must suppose she thought that whites can stand their ground but blacks must turn tail. I do not think the State can obtain a reversal in Florida because they are not allowed to appeal, but if they could at least file a motion for new trial, they might try arguing that this woman had a book in mind during deliberations and that she had to convince the three hold-outs for conviction to vote to acquit. No controversy would have followed a conviction, or at least none compared to what we now see. No controversy, no book deal. But if the State is prohibited from even filing a new trial motion, there's nothing more that can be done. Even though Texas has a sort of stand your ground law (it's called a "castle law" on the premises a man's home is his castle, though it allows defending yourself outside the home as well), our manslaughter statute is tighter. The State only need prove you acted "recklessly," while in Florida it takes the equivalent of intent. I think Zimmers would have been convicted in Texas.
The hell of it is, we've been here before - with O. J. Simpson. He skated on the criminal charges, then got taken to the cleaners with the civil suit. The difference, of course, is O. J.'s wealth vs. Zimmerman's, and being that George is not a former running back / actor / celebrity, the level of financial satisfaction the Martins can gain from suing him is going to be minimal at best.
I'm a little surprised that parallels aren't already being drawn in the media, jury nullification or not.
This is interesting Loren. You may recall that O.J.'s attorneys played the race card quite liberally. The State blew it when they failed to set venue in the place where the murder happened, Beverly Hills. A conviction might be had there. Instead, they chose the inner city. An almost all-black jury, seething from revelations that the top cop investigator, in conversations with a writer, had used the N word repeatedly, then denied it on the stand, spent little time acquitting. Would the result in the Zimmers trial have been way different had venue been changed to some heavily black county (if there is such a thing) in Florida. Frankly, I am beginning to think that this case was lost in jury selection. The woman on Anderson Cooper is blithely unconscious of her own racist attitudes.