American Culture

The George Zimmerman case: 12 ignorant people

Okay, make that six in the Trayvon Martin George Zimmerman case.

For a long time, at least since the OJ Simpson trial, I’ve had the sinking feeling that, in the age of Three Ring Justice, that the days of selecting twelve unbiased members of a jury may be long-over.  Instead, the defense and prosecution seem to need to seek out the untainted:  those untouched by media coverage.

But who does that really describe any more?

In most places, voter rolls are still the source of jurors.  We’d like to think that we prefer an informed electorate (don’t get me started on the reality of the situation).  But, in the case of jurors, being “informed” also usually means “disqualified.”

Sometimes, as hard as I try, I cannot help being “informed,” even about that which I would prefer to be ignorant.  Granted, I reduce my chances of preserving absolute ignorance by having a Google News home page.  But, still, I could not go for a beer at my favorite local establishment without seeing coverage of the Jody Arias trial.  I tried to ignore the whole sordid tale of the peroxide swan who reverted to brunette duckling as a defense strategy.  But, there it was, with my burger and beer, in my news headlines, even on the monitor at the gas pump.

So, how does one stay ignorant?

Juror B-37 said during the selection process that, for her, newspapers were for “lining the bird cage,” and no, she didn’t read them while performing that task.  She did watch the news and had heard of the case, but, aside from thinking it unfortunate, had no opinion.  I wonder if she votes?  I wonder if she informs herself the same way for that other civic duty?

I loved the movie Twelve Angry Men, the original, with Henry Fonda.  Yes, I understand the problems with the sort of juror activism portrayed in the movie.  But at least it contrasted the involved and informed jurors with the ignorant and reluctant.

I’ve only been called for jury duty once–about three years ago (so I’m probably eligible again).  I spent a week mostly offline sitting in the pool room.  Got called to one selection group–it ended with the person to my left.  Went back to waiting and reading.

A friend told me I’d never be selected anyway:  too smart.  Maybe that’s true–I wasn’t going to hide my nature to avoid or ensure service.  She had covered her education and intelligence behind a wad of cracking gum and smart-aleck answers in a ploy to get dismissed.  She got chosen.

I’m not sure how to address the ignorance issue.  Or even if it really needs addressed.  It just seems important for the jurors to be able to understand the evidence–and, for that, they need to be aware of the world, not ignorant of it.

8 replies »

  1. I’ve only been on one jury through deliberations to a verdict, but I’ve been selected for a number of them. The first time I was called, I noticed something from watching the interviews. Those giving the shortest answers, with the most obedient tone of voice, were invariably chosen – quite aside from their level of education and answers. I surmised that lawyers for both sides want jurors they believe they can influence. So, I gave short, truthful answers, didn’t crack any jokes or give attitude, and said “yes, sir” and “yes, m’am” whenever possible. Got picked every time. Most trials ended with plea deals before going to deliberation, once the attorneys could take the jury’s temperature after some testimony had been presented.

    I should add that the juries I’ve been on were comprised of people from all levels of education and intelligence. What they had most in common was respect for the importance of what we were engaged in, making a decision that would affect a person’s liberty. After having been a juror, I have much more respect for it than I had before being one. I think the kinds of juries that nullify verdicts, like in some of the celebrity trials, are more abberrant than typical.

  2. Thanks God this trial only needs six jurors…but just the same. who needs the jury anyways ..they got butt kissing CNN who suddenly start calling Hispanics White. I am about the same shade of skin color as Zimmerman and never been considered White…suddenly I am ….bunch of bull crap….lol

  3. Sorry, it’s not an issue of “ignorance.” Being selected for a jury is a matter of whether or not a person has an open mind and can be persuaded by the evidence presented at a trial about the guilt or innocence of a defendant, or if they’ve already decided that the reports on CNN or FoxNews or the internet has already told them all they need to know about the case before them.

    We don’t imprison people in the US based on cable news coverage, nor do we try people in the newspapers.

    • I agree with you, Karen, that open minded and open to persuasion is the ideal. However, determining whether or not someone is open minded is much harder than determining whether someone is “uninfluenced” by the media. As such, attorneys will tend to use “uninfluenced” as a proxy for “open-mindeded.” The two are not the same.

      Similarly, there is an impression, correct or not, that jurors who are less well educated and/or less intelligent are more easily persuaded by attorneys. As such, “open to persuasion” may well mean, practically speaking, people with less education and lower intelligence. Again, the two are not the same.

      I suspect attorneys would like to be the ones doing the persuading, rather than having one or two very smart jurors who are capable of seeing the holes in the attorney’s arguments and then pointing those holes out to the rest of the jury.

      • Thanks for the thoughtful response.
        Yes, attorneys want to do the persuading. That’s what they are there for (they are not, to steal a quote, a”potted plant”), but they need jurors who will pay attention to the evidence that is submitted at trial, not a “fact” which may or may not be true and accurate, that was reported in the Miami Herald (or wherever) six months ago.
        And I believe that you are absolutely wrong that attorneys want “dumb” juries. Intelligence is required to understand jury instructions as well as nuances in the law.

  4. Invisible Mikey: I agree completely about the importance and solemnity of jury duty. I’ll remember your tip should I be so fortunate as to be called again. I believe in the adage that “the most precious gift you can give is your time.”. I don’t know how informed the Zimmerman jurors are– I only know what it seemed like the were seeking.

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