It has been a case that never had a chance to be normal. And yet, the U.S. justice system is structured to ensure the rule of law is followed, all constitutional protections are provided to every defendant, and justice is served as much as possible. Any American with a basic civics education knows that the system in the real world often falls far short of those ideals. And it is within that system that this far-from-normal trial begins this week.
It is the case that the president of the United States commented on. It is the case that involves race relations, law and justice, Second Amendment rights, generational divides, and "Stand Your Ground" laws. Each of these issues could fill entire blogs, magazines, and scholarly journals with reflection and analysis. Over the past year, they have.
But now the George Zimmerman trial has begun this week with the jury selection process. After a week in which both sides have stipulated that the trial will likely last two to four weeks and the judge accordingly determined the jury would be kept both anonymous and sequestered, 23 potential jurors will return next week for further questioning. In order to ensure justice is served, the lawyers and judge are attempting to find a diverse set of jurors who have been influenced as little as possible by pretrial publicity and public debate.
But to what extent is that really possible in this case? The state of Florida's championship-winning Miami Heat, led by the one of the world's most famous athletes, gave tribute to the tragic killing of Trayvon Martin by wearing hoodies and looking down at the ground solemnly. When the level of publicity has reached those heights in the internet age, is it even possible to get jurors who have not been tainted by the whirlwind of news coverage and analysis from every angle?
And although the story left the headlines long ago, it has returned with the release of photos that Zimmerman's defense team wants submitted into evidence, including photos from the victim's cell phone which include handguns. As this case progresses, there will be time for in-depth legal analysis into the rules of evidence and the defense's efforts to cast Trayvon Martin as a danger to George Zimmerman rather than a harmless teenager gunned down by an aggressive vigilante.
The most important difficulty that Mark O'Mara and Zimmerman's defense team must overcome is convincing the jury of Zimmerman's peers that Zimmerman pulled out his gun and shot Trayvon Martin in the chest because Zimmerman feared for his life due to Martin's actions and/or words.
There is no dispute that Zimmerman, a 29-year old Hispanic male, shot Martin during a fight one night in February 2012. Zimmerman chose to forego a "Stand Your Ground" hearing, making that controversial law disappear from having any impact on this trial. Under Florida law, Zimmerman could have shot Martin lawfully in self-defense if it was necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm.
But the cards are stacked against Zimmerman's defense team. It will be difficult to have a jury that is unbiased by non-stop media coverage for over a year assess the second-degree murder charge against Zimmerman. As many news sources and analysts have said, it will be difficult to craft a successful defense without Zimmerman and his lawyers coming across as racist. The entire world is watching, the stakes are high, and the truth is clouded by the whirlwind of media coverage, partisan bickering, and unpleasant history of race relations in this country.
But this is the system we have. Efforts are being made to ensure justice is served. And, justice aside, if you are concerned that the jury will automatically determine the verdict on the basis of media coverage, remember that this trial takes place in the same state that acquitted Casey Anthony in spite of that trial's high-profile status.