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Why Jury Selection for George Zimmerman Is Taking So Long

Posted: 06/17/2013 5:32 pm

After one week of jury selection in the George Zimmerman murder trial in central Florida, how many jurors have been selected for the trial? The simple answer is none.

George Zimmerman is charged with the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Martin was shot once in the chest as he walked unarmed to a family member's home in a gated community. Zimmerman, who was serving as a neighbourhood watchman, is claiming that he killed the teenager in self-defence. He was photographed by the police with facial and head injuries after the incident.

The case attracted national attention with racial overtones and Zimmerman's delay in being arrested for six weeks led to protests led by civil rights leaders.

The judge in the George Zimmerman trial is taking extraordinary precautions to ensure that the jury selection process is conducted fairly. She has also ordered that the jury will be sequestered during the trial.

Every prospective juror summoned to the Seminole County courthouse filled out a written questionnaire about relevant features of their background. That has been followed by a lengthy screening process, where lawyers in the case have questioned every potential juror separately about the possible influence of pre-trial publicity. The questioning can be extensive. In one case a potential juror admitted to donating $20 to George Zimmerman's defence fund because Zimmerman seemed like an ''underdog'' and the ''media seemed to be biased'' against him. The prosecutor continued with a series of probing questions about the sources of the man's knowledge (including the social media) and views about the case.

In another instance, the defence asked a potential juror about her racial views on the Zimmerman case and the civil rights protests that followed it.

When a pool of 40 potential jurors is selected, a second round of questioning will begin. Ultimately, a jury of six jurors and four alternates will be chosen for the trial.

In a comparative case in Canada, the jury selection process would be fundamentally different. In highly charged murder trials with widespread publicity involving such notorious defendants as Paul Bernardo, Michael Rafferty and Robert Pickton, juries comprised of 12 jurors were chosen in a matter of a few days.

In Canada, a high profile case like George Zimmerman's would be a challenge for cause process based on the pre-trial publicity in the case. The mere fact that a potential juror was exposed to a barrage of pre-trial publicity would not necessarily lead to a finding of partiality or bias. The material issue for consideration in a challenge for cause is whether the specific publicity or notoriety of the defendant in the case could possibly destroy a potential juror's indifference.

Canadian courts have never adopted the American practice that permits the lawyers to ask intrusive questions of potential jurors. There is an underlying principle that the challenge for cause process must be equally fair to prospective jurors and the defendant.

Counsel would seek to elicit information about any members of the jury pool who were engaged in any protest, who had signed a petition or who had donated money to any fund related to the case. It is likely that they would be disqualified from serving as jurors or dismissed during the abbreviated challenge for cause process. Any potential juror would have to attest to their ability to be impartial, despite their exposure to pre-trial publicity.

Both Crown and defence would also have 20 peremptory challenges available in a murder trial that they could exercise freely to eliminate any possible juror.

Is the American system of jury selection in the George Zimmerman fairer than the Canadian system? Arguably, a compelling case can be made that it is fairer. However, it also has to be recognized that the dissemination of leaks and evidence in the Zimmerman trial and the sharp public comments of the lawyers in the case would never occur in a Canadian trial. There would be a ban on publication of evidence led at the bail hearing and preliminary hearing until the trial concluded.

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  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>Feb. 19, 2012</strong> -- Trayvon Martin, 17, and Tracy, his father, travel from Miami Gardens to Sanford, Fla., to visit the elder Martin's fiancee in her townhome at The Retreat at Twin Lakes. <em>Photo courtesy of <a href="http://www.globalgrind.com" target="_blank">globalgrind.com</a></em>

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>Feb. 26, 2012</strong> -- Trayvon Martin is walking to the home of his father's fiancee after purchasing items from a 7-Eleven store in Sanford. George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, spots Martin at approximately 7 p.m. and calls police. "We've had some break-ins in my neighborhood, and there's a real suspicious guy," Zimmerman tells police.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>Feb. 26, 2012</strong> -- Roughly seven minutes after Zimmerman's call to police, authorities receive a 911 call from an individual reporting a fight. During the call, the dispatcher hears a gunshot in the background and sends police units to the location. Responding officers discover that Martin has been shot in the chest. The teen is unresponsive and pronounced dead at the scene. Police find no identification on Martin and label him a John Doe.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>Feb. 26, 2012</strong> -- Questioned by police, Zimmerman informs them that Martin attacked him and he fired his gun in self-defense. Authorities confiscate Zimmerman's 9 mm semi-automatic pistol and take him to the Sanford Police Department for further questioning.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>Feb. 27, 2012</strong> -- Following a lengthy interview, George Zimmerman is released from the police station at approximately 1 a.m. Hours later, Tracy Martin contacts police to report his son missing. Investigators soon connect the dots and inform the elder Martin of his son's death. After receiving treatment from a family doctor, Zimmerman meets with investigators and reenacts the events of the shooting at the crime scene.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>March 8, 2012</strong> -- Tracy Martin holds a press conference, during which he criticizes the investigation into his son's slaying. "We feel justice hasn't been served," Martin tells reporters.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>March 9, 2012</strong> -- Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump tells the Miami Herald he is filing a lawsuit for the release of public records in the case.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>March 10, 2012</strong> -- Members of the New Black Panther Party, contending there has been a "miscarriage of justice," rally outside the Sanford Police Department.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>March 12, 2012</strong> -- Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee holds a press conference, at which he claims that investigators were unable to arrest Zimmerman because he was protected by Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, which allows residents to shoot someone if they reasonably believe they are being threatened. "There is no evidence to dispute Zimmerman's assertion that he shot Martin out of self-defense," Lee says. In response, Martin's parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, post a petition on the Change.org website calling for State Attorney Angela Corey to prosecute Zimmerman. The petition quickly garners support from multiple celebrities and receives nearly 900,000 signatures the first week.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>March 13, 2012</strong> -- In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the NAACP expresses doubt in the Sanford Police Department's ability to appropriately handle the investigation, asking the Department of Justice to review the case. "The NAACP has no confidence that, absent federal oversight, the Sanford Police Department will devote the necessary degree of care to its investigation," the letter says. Sanford police announce the completion of their investigation and turn the case over to the State Attorney's Office for Brevard and Seminole Counties. "Trayvon Martin and his family, interested persons, and the public-at-large are entitled to no less than a thorough, deliberate and just review of the information provided, along with any other evidence that may or may not be developed in the course of the review process," State Attorney Norm Wolfinger's office says in a statement.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>March 14, 2012</strong> -- Mary Cutcher, a woman listed in police reports as a witness who heard Martin's shooting, <a href="http://www.wftv.com/news/news/witness-sanford-police-blew-us-teen-slaying/nLSqk/" target="_blank">tells WFTV.com that police took only a short statement from her</a> following the shooting. "[The police] blew us off, and I called back again and I said, 'I know this was not self-defense. There was no punching, no hitting going on at the time, no wrestling,'" says Cutcher.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>March 15, 2012</strong> -- Sanford police issue a statement calling Mary Cutcher's TV interviews "inconsistent" with her sworn testimony. Meanwhile, Zimmerman's father, Robert, tells the Orlando Sentinel that his son has been unfairly portrayed as a racist.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>March 16, 2012</strong> -- Sanford police release eight 911 recordings in the case. One of the recordings includes a voice in the background screaming, "Help, help!" The screams are followed by the sound of a gunshot.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>March 19, 2012</strong> -- The Justice Department and the FBI announce they have opened an investigation into the shooting.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>March 20, 2012</strong> -- State Attorney Norm Wolfinger announces that a Seminole County, Fla., grand jury will review the circumstances of Martin's death.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>March 21, 2012</strong> -- The Sanford City Commission votes "no confidence" in Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee and calls for his resignation.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>March 22, 2012</strong> -- Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee holds a press conference and announces he is temporarily stepping down as police chief because his presence is a "distraction." State Attorney Norm Wolfinger recuses himself from the case and Florida Gov. Rick Scott announces that another state attorney, Jacksonville-based Angela Corey, will be replacing Wolfinger as special prosecutor in the investigation. Meanwhile, Rev. Al Sharpton, Martin Luther King III and other civil rights leaders and politicians hold a justice rally at Sanford's Fort Mellon Park. They demand an arrest in Martin's shooting. An estimated 10,000 people attend the event.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>March 23, 2012</strong> -- President Barack Obama tells reporters that the nation needs to do some "soul-searching to figure out how something like this happens." He adds, "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon."

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>March 24, 2012</strong> -- Members of the New Black Panther Party offer a $10,000 reward for the "capture" of Zimmerman.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>March 25, 2012</strong> -- Rev. Jesse Jackson speaks in Eatonville and encourages revisions to Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law. "If it's a moment, we go home. If it's a movement, we go to war," says Jackson.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>March 26, 2012</strong> -- Police release new details of the investigation, saying Zimmerman told them Martin punched him and slammed his head into the sidewalk several times. Acting Police Chief Darren Scott takes over as chief of the Sanford Police Department. Thousands of people gather in Sanford to mark one month since Martin was killed.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>March 29, 2012</strong> -- Zimmerman's brother, Robert Zimmerman Jr., tells CNN that medical records will prove his brother was attacked and his nose was broken.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>April 3, 2012</strong> -- Florida State Sen. Chris Smith (D-Fort Lauderdale) announces the formation of a task force to review the state's "Stand Your Ground" law.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>April 8, 2012</strong> -- George Zimmerman launches the website "The Real George Zimmerman" to raise money for his defense.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>April 9, 2012</strong> -- State Attorney Angela Corey announces her decision not to use a grand jury in the Martin investigation. The move eliminates the possibility of a first-degree murder charge.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>April 10, 2012</strong> -- Zimmerman's attorneys, Hal Uhrig (right) and Craig Sonner, announce that they will no longer be representing him.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>April 11, 2012</strong> - State Attorney Angela Corey announces the charging of George Zimmerman with second-degree murder. Zimmerman turns himself in to police and is booked into the Seminole County Jail. Mark O'Mara announces his role as Zimmerman's new attorney.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>April 23, 2012</strong> -- George Zimmerman's new lawyer, Mark O'Mara, enters a not-guilty plea on his client's behalf. Zimmerman is released from jail on a $150,000 bond. Per the conditions of his release, Zimmerman is required to wear a GPS monitoring device.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>April 24, 2012</strong> -- George Zimmerman shuts down his website. According to his attorney, the site raised $200,000.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>April 27, 2012</strong> -- Mark O'Mara launches the website GZLegalCase.com as the official site for Zimmerman's legal case.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>May 8, 2012</strong> -- At Zimmerman's arraignment, Seminole County Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester Jr. accepts his not-guilty plea.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>May 17, 2012</strong> -- Prosecutors release police reports, witness statements, surveillance videos and other evidence in the case.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>June 1, 2012</strong> -- Judge Lester revokes Zimmerman's bond, stating that his ruling is based on concerns that Zimmerman and his wife did not fully disclose their finances at the bond hearing.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>June 3, 2012</strong> -- Zimmerman is returned to jail.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>June 12, 2012</strong> -- George Zimmerman's wife, Shellie, is arrested on one count of perjury.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>June 20, 2012</strong> -- The Sanford city manager fires Bill Lee from the police force.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>June 21, 2012</strong> -- George Zimmerman's legal team releases discovery evidence on their client's website.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>June 29, 2012</strong> -- Zimmerman's second bond hearing is held. The judge does not immediately issue a ruling.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>July 5, 2012</strong> -- Judge Lester grants Zimmerman a higher bond of $1 million.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>July 6, 2012</strong> -- Zimmerman is again released from jail.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>July 19, 2012</strong> -- George Zimmerman relaunches his personal website.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>July 27, 2012</strong> -- George Zimmerman's wife pleads not guilty to perjury.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>Aug. 29, 2012</strong> -- An appeals court grants a request by George Zimmerman's defense team to dismiss Judge Lester from the case.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>Aug. 30, 2012</strong> -- Circuit Judge Debra S. Nelson is assigned the case.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>Oct. 19, 2012</strong> -- Judge Nelson grants a defense motion requesting access to Trayvon Martin's school records and social media posts. The state is also granted access to Zimmerman's medical records.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>Nov. 14, 2012</strong> -- Gov. Scott's "Stand Your Ground" task force concludes its final meeting and recommends no sweeping changes to the law.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>Nov. 20, 2012</strong> -- Former Casey Anthony attorney Jose Baez announces that he is representing Sanford police Detective Chris Serino, the lead investigator in the shooting.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>Dec. 3, 2012</strong> -- A new photo is released showing George Zimmerman with a bloody, broken nose on the night of the shooting.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>Feb. 5, 2013</strong> -- On this day, Trayvon Martin would have turned 18.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>Feb. 26, 2013</strong> -- Martin's parents hold a rally in his memory to mark the one-year anniversary of his death.

  • Key Dates In The Trayvon Martin Case

    <strong>March 26, 2013</strong> -- Zimmerman's defense team releases its witness list of 134 people, including Sanford police officers and 56 unnamed witnesses.

 

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