The name “George Zimmerman” evokes a range of emotions from anger to sadness. Since February 2012, national headlines have bombarded us with the audiotape of the 911 call, questions of self-defense vs. murder, police investigative corruption and racism. The initial stages of jury selection in the George Zimmerman murder trial began yesterday. Zimmerman, a now 28 year-old Hispanic-American male, is charged with second-degree murder of Trayvon Martin, a then 17 year-old African-American male. Zimmerman is charged with shooting and killing the unarmed teen at point-blank range over a disputed self-defense incident after Martin allegedly attacked Zimmerman.
What’s not in question is the desire to obtain a fair and impartial jury to hear the case. With the consistent media coverage over the past year, it’s difficult to imagine that any potential juror hasn’t heard or seen the headlines and the accompanying accusations and prejudices of the circumstances of the investigation. Since we cannot be fully certain of what biases have influenced any potential juror, what can attorneys do to help ensure a fair and impartial jury?
Potential jurors’ personal experience with prejudice whether racial, gender, sexual, or professional as well as the extent of pre-trial knowledge of the case are hot buttons for a fair and impartial jury. Analysis of both verbal and nonverbal behaviors immediately after these questions will reveal sources of stress and/or deception on part of the potential jurors during the voir dire.
During the voir dire, the potential jurors’ answers to questions must be critically examined for content as well as lack of content. When someone isn’t comfortable with a question, they may not respond directly. Instead they may be evasive, give extraneous information or answer a parallel question. Furthermore, they may show changes in their body language, gestures and/or speech patterns, thereby indicating some form of stress or possible deception. One should look for two or more behavior changes, also known as clusters, that occur immediately after the question and/or within the first several seconds of the response. The closer in time that the behavior changes occur in relation to the question, the more confidence we can have that the question is the catalyst for the changes. Asking clarifying questions will help distinguish between stress and deception. Minimizing deception in the jury selection helps ensure a fair and impartial trial.