The selected jury members of the George Zimmerman trial could hardly be more homogeneous -- and potentially disastrous.
Zimmerman is facing second-degree murder charges for the death of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African-American. Primarily because Zimmerman is not African-American, and was not immediately charged with any crime, the case has sparked a racially charged, well-publicized debate.
The Constitution requires, via the Sixth Amendment, that “the accused shall enjoy a right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury” where the crime was committed. There is no constitutional requirement that the jury shall be made up of the defendant’s “peers.”
Jury selection was expected to take 2-3 weeks. It began with an initial pool of 211 people that filled out questionnaires. By the end of Day 7, only 58 of the 211 were questioned by attorneys about their knowledge of the case; additionally, the attorneys selected 40 of 58 to advance to the next round of more in-depth questioning. Of the final 40, with regard to gender: 24 were women, and 16 were men. With regard to race: 27 were white, 7 were black, 3 were of mixed race, and 3 were Hispanic.
In just two days, Days 8 and 9, both sides questioned all 40 potential jurors.
By the end of Day 9, 30 of the people were dismissed and the remaining 10 were selected as the primary and alternate members. Both sides moved way too quickly.
Both sides lost focus. As a result, the composition of the selected jury is guaranteed to reignite racial debates before the trial even begins.
All of the six members are women. Five are white, one is Hispanic. The four alternates include two women and two men, all of whom are white, but for one male Hispanic.
Seminole County, the area from which the jury pool was selected, is more than 81 percent white, between 9-11 percent African-American, and consists of more than 50 percent women, according to the Seminole County Government and U.S. Census. Sanford, the city where the incident occurred, is approximately 29 percent African-American.
Zimmerman’s jury is 100 percent women and 0 percent African-American.
This jury needed at least one African-American jury member, and one male. The selected panel can certainly be “impartial,” but because previous racially charged trials focused on the jury, the Zimmerman trial attorneys should have been aware of how the make-up could impact responses outside of the courtroom and, potentially, to the safety of the jurors.
America has not seen a racially charged case like this since the O.J. Simpson trial. In that case, there were 12 jurors: Nine were African-American, two were white, and one was Hispanic. Ten of the 12 jurors were female.
The “not guilty” Simpson verdict sparked great divisiveness across the country. Some alleged that Simpson was only found not guilty because the predominantly black jury did not want to convict a fellow member of the African-American community.
The George Zimmerman prosecution and defense teams should have considered the potential for such a response in this case, because race was at issue from the outset.
This case should not be about race, but the attorneys’ failure to pick a more diverse group of six people is certain to reignite the issue, especially if the 100 percent all-female/non-African-American jury finds Mr. Zimmerman not guilty.