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August 19, 2013

Florida Legislators Propose Changes to Jury Composition

The Florida legislature will soon decide whether to change the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure relating to the number of jurors required to hear and decide the outcome of certain criminal cases. Miami criminal defense attorneys and lawyers from across the State of Florida have dealt with changes in the law over the years, but changing the rules regarding the number of jurors required to hear a case do not come along that often. As the law currently stands in the State of Florida, 12 persons are required to make up a jury in only capital cases. Miami Senator Gwen Margolis filed a bill that seeks to significantly alter the type of cases that will require 12 jurors to render a verdict.. As submitted, the bill proposes that 12 jurors be empaneled on more than just capital cases.

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June 17, 2013

Second Week of Jury Selection Begins in Zimmerman Case

After three days of jury selection, 29 potential jurors were ordered by the judge to return to court this week. After prosecutors and criminal defense lawyers questioned dozens of potential candidates, those who have not been stricken for cause were told to come back to court to participate in the ongoing jury selection in the highly publicized Zimmerman case. The case involves the shooting of a young black male in Sanford, Florida. Due to the publicity the case has garnered over the past year, it is difficult to say the least, gathering a fair an impartial jury to determine Zimmerman's fate.

Most criminal defense attorneys will tell you that the most important part of any criminal jury trial rests with the first part of any criminal case, jury selection. Questioning of potential jurors by the judge and the participating lawyers is supposed to meet one common objection, seat fair an impartial jurors to determine the guilt or innocence of a defendant. A secondary objection in jury selection is to build a rapport with the jurors. Zimmerman has pled not guilty to one count of second degree murder. Because second degree murder is not a capital offense, six primary jurors will be chosen to determine his guilt or innocence. Additional jurors will be selected as alternates. The number of alternate jurors will be determined by the judge. The alternate jurors will hear all of the same evidence as the primary jurors. If one or more of the primary jurors cannot fulfill their obligations, the alternate jurors will be used to determine the guilt or innocence of the defendant.

Of the 29 candidates ordered to return for a second week of jury selection, 19 are white, six are African American, two are Hispanic, and one is Asian-American. While race is never supposed to play a role in any criminal trial, a cases of this nature make it difficult to overcome that hurdle. Zimmerman, a white male, is accused of killing Trayvon Martin, a black male, in cold blood. Zimmerman has availed himself of self-defense claim since the date of the shooting incident. The case has caused a lot of public scrutiny because the victim was a young black male who was shot while walking through a gated community by a white male.

The judge's goal is to compile 40 perspective jurors that during initial questioning were found to be fair and impartial. Seventy-five potential jurors have already been dismissed after the first round of questioning. Once the first 40 jurors pass the first test, prosecutors and defense lawyers will begin a second round of questioning in an attempt to seat the six primary jurors and the alternates. Jurors can be dismissed for two reasons under Florida law. The first is referred to as a challenge for cause. Challenges for cause will be granted if a juror can not be found to be fair and impartial. The court will make the ultimate determination whether a juror can be fair and impartial. The lawyers involved in the trial can make as many challenges for cause as they think are appropriate. The second type of challenge is called a peremptory challenge. In felony cases that are punishable by death or life in prison, each side is entitled to 10 peremptory challenges. In all other felony cases, each side is entitled to six peremptory challenges. Peremptory challenges can be made for any reason as long as it is race and gender neutral. The media expects jury selection to completed as early as next week.

29 Possible Jurors to Return in Zimmerman Case, South Florida, June 17, 2013.