Wednesday, April 23, 2014
By DAHLIA LITHWICK Slate
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - Less than two days after a Florida jury found George Zimmerman not guilty in the death of Trayvon Martin, Juror B37, one of the six members of the anonymous panel, signed with a literary agent to shop her book about the trial.
Staff Photo Illustration/Michael Fisher
The news comes with a bonus video: Juror B37's entire voir dire captured on film and promoted Monday by Gawker. The process by which counsel on each side of the case interviews prospective jurors is revealing in all kinds of ways and a useful lesson in the strengths and weaknesses of the jury system. In the case of B37, it is also a master class on how to not know anything about something everyone else knows about.
Start with the general observations already raised in Gawker: B37 consumes no media beyond the "Today" show -- no radio, no Internet news and no newspapers used for anything but lining her parrot's cage. Perhaps because she does not consume any media, she was under the false belief that there were "riots" after the Martin shooting. She also described the Martin killing as "an unfortunate incident that happened."
But the tape raises another question that should be debated in every trial advocacy class in America: What were the lawyers, especially the prosecutors, thinking when they seated her? Why didn't prosecutors use one of their peremptory challenges to nix her? She's contrarian, she raised serious ontological doubts about the nature of truth-seeking, and she was only ever truly animated on the subject of rescue birds. Both lawyers were visibly cowed by her. I asked several prosecutors, former prosecutors and public defenders to watch the video and report on the red flags it raised for them.
Almost all of them start with the same caveat: Jury selection is not jury selection. "It's de-selection" said Howard Lidsky, a board-certified criminal-law attorney in Florida. "It's impossible to make a judgment about jury selection unless you're seated in the room," he said. "You have 18 people in the box and just six strikes. You may dislike a juror, but you might like the person sitting next to him even less."
Ken White is a former prosecutor and criminal defense attorney at Brown White and Newhouse in Los Angeles. He blogs at Popehat.com. He made the same point: "Even if one prospective juror seems bad, you have a limited number of peremptories, and they may have judged the others as even worse. What was the alternative?"
Robert Weisberg teaches criminal law at Stanford Law School, and he immediately wondered what it meant when juror B37 asserted that "You never get all the information. How do you form an opinion if you don't have all the information?" Weisberg summed up his lawyerly concerns in one sentence: "She thinks the world is one big reasonable doubt."
Gail Brashers-Krug, a former federal prosecutor and law professor, is currently a criminal defense attorney in Iowa. She also jumped back when B37 said, "You never get all the information." "That's exactly what a defense attorney loves to hear," said Brashers-Krug. "That's reasonable doubt, right there. If I were a prosecutor, that would make me extremely nervous about her."
She added that B37's devotion to animals might raise flags for her as well. "The animal thing is weird. She doesn't know how many animals she has, and she mentions her animals far, far more than her two daughters. She strikes me as eccentric and unpredictable. I never, ever want eccentric, unpredictable people on a jury."
Brashers-Krug has another reservation about seating B37: "She really wants to be a juror. She seems to be going out of her way to minimize the disruptive effect of a multiweek trial on her life. Jurors rarely do that. She is also taking pains to avoid saying anything particularly sympathetic to either side.
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