By LaMonique Giddens, UNF
SANFORD, Fla. -- On the fourth day of jury selection in the George Zimmerman trial, Judge Debra Nelson decided the jury would be sequestered.
On Thursday, five prospective jurors were dismissed after individual voir dire and five were dismissed for hardships before being questioned, according to Michelle Kennedy, Public Information Officer for the 18th Judicial Circuit.
Judge Nelson granted the attorneys' request to get to 40 jurors who have undergone pre-publicity qualification before beginning with regular voir dire.
First round voir dire continued on Thursday. This first round of questioning is just the "basic" round and Judge Nelson wanted to the questions to focus on pretrial publicity. The second round of questions will be more specific and focus on the "meat" of the case. There will be some fairly provocative questions regarding gun control, "Stand Your Ground" laws, and racial issues.
One of the first potential jurors questioned was juror number E50, a retired Caucasian male in his 60s who is the vice-president of his homeowners association whose son was a paranoid schizophrenic that passed away five years ago. He thinks the race issue in the Zimmerman case has been overblown. He said he has not formed an opinion one way or the other.
Another potential juror is E75. He is also a Caucasian male. He is in his 20s and a college student. He said he has seen coverage on the Zimmerman case on Facebook and heard about it at school.
Another very interesting interaction took place between potential juror E81 and prosecuting attorney Bernie de la Rionda. E81 is a Caucasian female in her 30s who is married to a retired police officer. She believes Zimmerman defended himself and that "he should go home," and that Trayvon Martin was "looking for a fight." She also said she did not want to be on the jury.
De la Rionda asked her a question about whether or not her husband agreed with her opinions about the case and she became quite combative, asking de la Rionda "Why does that matter? It's my opinion." De la Rionda proceeded to explain to her that he was trying to get to how she got to her opinion. He then asked her if there were any other people who disagreed with her and she responded again with "Why does that matter?"
De la Rionda indicated to E81 that her mind was already made up and she responded "When it comes to carrying a weapon legally, yeah, my mind is made up with that." De la Rionda then brought up to her that her mind was already made up that Zimmerman is innocent and she said "If you can prove to me differently, then do it."
There is a reason de la Rionda decided to delve this deeply into questioning this juror. Both the prosecuting side and the defense each get 10 peremptory challenges (jurors they can strike for any reason other than race).
However any juror, at any time and for any reason can be struck for cause by the judge, and strikes for cause are unlimited. So rather than use one of his peremptory challenges, the prosecutor is trying to show that E81 cannot be unbiased, then she can be struck for cause and he gets to keep all 10 of his challenges. This is important because it is still very early in the voir dire process. Sort of like in a football game, a coach doesn't want to use all of their time outs in the first quarter.
It should be pointed out that everything in the voir dire process is relevant and important. Every answer to every question by every juror is being scrutinized by both sides. It is their duty to find a "fair and impartial" jury. A 17-year-old is dead and a man's life hangs in the balance, so the idea that sometimes we as spectators may not always understand a question's importance is quite frankly irrelevant.
Potential juror E81 all but dared the prosecution to "change her mind." The fact is, this potential juror has it all wrong. Jurors are not there to have their minds changed and it is not the role of the prosecuting or defense attorneys to change the minds of the jurors.
One of the reasons we go through the process of voir dire is that the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution gives all of us the right to a "fair and impartial jury." That means no juror should come into a trial needing their mind changed. The only job the attorneys have is to present to the jury the facts of the case. It is then up these people, in this case, Zimmerman's peers, to determine his fate. This is our opportunity to witness our justice system at work.
LaMonique Giddens is a senior and a double major in Political Science and Psychology at University of North Florida. She will be attending law school in the fall of 2014 and pursuing her master's degree in Psychology in 2014. She is interested becoming a trial attorney and interested in the fields of jury selection and trial advocacy.