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Over Easy: Zimmerman Trial Begins With Jury Selection [UPDATED]

note- This update is assembled from portions of articles by Frederick Leatherman (Mason), with permission. The trial began Monday, June 10, with prospective jurors filling out forms.

Seventy potential jurors have been excused based upon questionnaires or on individual voir dire, so far.

Individual voir dire, as the name implies, involves questioning prospective jurors individually out of the presence of the others in order to prevent their answers from potentially influencing or poisoning the minds of other jurors. For example, this is the only way to effectively question prospective jurors regarding what information about the case they have been exposed to, from what sources, and whether they have formed an opinion about the case, the guilt or innocence of the accused, and the lawyers representing each side.

Personal questions regarding whether anyone has been a victim of a crime or accused of a crime also should be asked out of the presence of other jurors. Whether we will be permitted to observe that process remains to be seen.

Keep in mind that there is no limit to the number of challenges for cause that each side may assert. A challenge for cause is a formal request to the Court to excuse a prospective juror on the ground that they cannot or will not follow the jury instructions, which will be the law of the case. For example, a prospective juror who says she cannot presume the defendant innocent, given what she knows about the case, would be challenged for cause by the defense and excused for cause by the judge. The same result would happen to a prospective juror challenged for cause by the State, if he said that he had already decided that the defendant was innocent because TM was the aggressor and he had a right to kill him.

On the other hand, if either or both prospective jurors expressed less certainty and said they could put aside their personal beliefs and base their verdict only on the evidence admitted by the Court, the challenge for cause would be denied.

This unhappy result for the party that lost the challenge for cause would probably result in the use of a peremptory challenge to excuse the prospective juror. With three important exceptions, the party exercising a peremptory challenge does not have to give a reason to support or justify the challenge. The three exceptions are race, gender and religion.

You can reasonably expect the State will object to the defense using a peremptory challenge against a Black prospective juror. To survive the challenge, the defense will have to convince Judge Nelson that they have a reason independent of the prospective juror’s race to support the challenge.

Unless Judge Nelson increases the number of peremptory challenges, each side will get 3. A 6-person jury will decide the case.

UPDATE for Wednesday

Welcome to the third day of jury selection in the Zimmerman trial.

According to my notes, the lawyers have questioned 14 potential jurors (B12, B29, B30, B76, B7, B35, B37, B51, B55, B65, B86, E6, E40, E54). Two are Black (B37 and B86).

B37 is a conservative male who owns vending machines and watches Shawn Hannity. He said he believes too much is being made out of this case and does not believe race had anything to do with it.

B86 knows the least about the case. She does not have a TV and heard about it from the pastor of her church during a service when he led a prayer for all of the people involved. The church is the center of her life.

70 potential jurors have been excused (41 on Monday, including 1 of the 4 who were questioned in court, and 29 yesterday).

Everyone questioned knows something about the case.

The goal of the jury selection process in this case is to select a 6-person jury with 4 alternates who, despite what they already know about the case (i.e., the defendant’s false narrative pushed by Mark O’Mara and published by a lazy lapdog press) will fairly and impartially listen to the evidence introduced in court and base their verdict only on that evidence.

Whether they will do that remains to be seen.

Judge Nelson is permitting the attorneys to question potential jurors individually on the issue of pretrial publicity. Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda initiates the questioning of each potential juror. Defense counsel, Mark O’Mara and Don West, go second on an alternating basis.

After prosecution and defense complete their questioning of a potential juror, the lawyers approach the bench and either pass or challenge the potential juror for cause.

A challenge for cause is a request to excuse the potential juror on the ground that he or she cannot be fair and impartial or follow the instructions in the case. We do not know which potential jurors have been challenged and/or excused because the microphones at the bench have been turned off during the discussions. Presumably some challenges have been granted and others denied. We do know that one of the four potential jurors questioned Monday afternoon was excused. We do not know if any of the 10 potential jurors questioned yesterday were excused.

Judge Nelson can also excuse potential jurors for hardship. I believe most of the 70 potential jurors who have been excused were excused for hardship or they admitted on the questionnaires that they could not be fair and impartial.

Judge Nelson wants to create a pool of potential jurors who have been passed for cause that is large enough to end up with 6 jurors and 4 alternates after counsel exercise their peremptory challenges.

Each side normally gets 3 peremptory challenges with a 6-person jury and each side can exercise 1 peremptory challenge per alternate. I do not know if Judge Nelson has increased that number.

Unlike challenges for cause, the lawyers do not have to give a reason to support a peremptory challenge. There is one relevant exception. Neither side can use its peremptory challenges to systematically exclude potential jurors based on race or gender.

I previously mentioned that 2 potential jurors are black. Assuming they have not already been excused for cause and the defense wants to get rid of them, they are going to have to articulate a credible reason other than race to support a peremptory challenge.

Let’s run some numbers to see how large a pool of potential jurors passed for cause must exist in order to end up with 6 jurors and 4 alternates (a total of 10 people).

If each side exercises its 3 peremptory challenges, that is a total of 6 eliminated.

If each side exercises its 1 peremptory challenge per alternate, that is a total of 8 eliminated.

6 + 8 = 14

The magic number is 24 (24 – 14 = 10)

Therefore, unless Judge Nelson has increased the number of peremptory challenges, she needs to create a pool of at least 24 potential jurors passed for cause before the lawyers begin exercising peremptory challenges.

I believe

The pool on Monday consisted of 3 potential jurors passed for cause.

We do not know how large it is at the beginning of today’s session because we do not know if any of yesterday’s group of 10 potential jurors were excused for cause.

See you in court.

Here’s the link to the livestream coverage.

The trial is being Live Streamed, and is being heavily covered by all networks, including Headline News (HLN).

Do you have experience with serving on a jury?

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