Why Hiding a Jury Won't Help Zimmerman Trial

Judge Debra Nelson at a pretrial hearing in May (pool/Getty Images)
Judge Debra Nelson at a pretrial hearing in May (pool/Getty Images)

In a piece for Slate, Emily Bazelon explains why sequestering a jury, especially in such a high-profile case, does not work. She bases her argument on Supreme Court rulings and suggests that allowing jurors to live at home and read what they want won't affect their final decision. In fact, it will help them be balanced and fair.

Jury selection may take as long as two weeks. That's a sign of how racially charged and generally fraught this case remains more than a year after [Trayvon] Martin's death. Judge Debra Nelson has already ruled that the jurors are supposed to remain anonymous — the media won't be able to show their faces, and they'll be referred to by number instead of name. She has not yet said whether she'll sequester the jury once its members have been selected, but odds are she probably will.

She shouldn't — or at least I hope Nelson decides against sequestration. It's a huge burden to impose on those citizens selected to serve — weeks of living a sealed existence in a hotel, away from your family, friends, and daily routines …

And I'm skeptical that it's worth the cost. As I pointed out a year ago, after the story broke of Martin's death in a gated community in Sanford, Fla., there has been so much publicity that it's hard to imagine the point of shielding jurors from more at this point. Plus, to be an impartial juror shouldn't mean being an uninformed one. As the Supreme Court said in 2010 in an appeal brought by Jeffrey Skilling, Enron's former CEO, "juror impartiality does not require ignorance," and jurors "need not enter the box with empty heads in order to determine the facts impartially." Justice Kennedy went further two decades ago, when he wrote, "Empirical research suggests that in the few instances when jurors have been exposed to extensive and prejudicial publicity, they are able to disregard it and base their verdict upon the evidence presented in court." This is heartening when you think about it: Research shows that jurors can obey the instruction to set aside their preconceived notions about a case and stick to weighing the evidence presented at trial. Nelson should let the Zimmerman jurors sleep at home.


Read Emily Bazelon's entire piece at Slate.

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