The type of jury that George Zimmerman will get in Seminole County, Fla., has been a hot item of speculation and debate. But what is missing in the debate are two crucial things. One is the specifics of who will likely be on the six-person jury. The other is how these six jurors will likely vote. This tracks squarely back to who those six jurors are likely to be.
The facts about who they are likely to be are based on U.S. Census reports and the Florida Division of Election Statistics. The jurors in the 500-juror pool that the defense and prosecution will pick the six from will be older in every age group from 20 to 60 years of age than the average age of jurors in other Florida counties. There will be more Republicans than Democrats. There were nearly 20,000 more of them than Democrats in 2012. Nearly 90 percent of the GOP registered voters are white. They will be 10 percent whiter than the statewide population. There will be a lower percentage of blacks and Hispanics than in the statewide average. There will be slightly more women than men. They will be far more likely to be homeowners than renters. The homeownership rate is triple that of the rental rate.
Based solely on the numbers and the county's demographics, of the 500 persons in the juror pool, there will be 329 whites, 89 Hispanics, and 59 blacks. There will be 239 men and 251 women. Defense attorneys that have tried major criminal cases in Seminole County, say the composite juror is a white, professional or business person, and middle aged, male and female, and Republican. In any other case, this type of jury would overwhelmingly be a pro prosecution jury, and the likelihood of Zimmerman being convicted would be nearly a slam dunk. Indeed, more than 90 percent of felony defendants prosecuted in the county are convicted.
But this is anything but any other case. The racial divide on the most inflammatory issue of all in the Martin case, the stand your ground law, was gaping. A statewide poll in July, 2012 by a Florida news station found that nearly 70 percent of whites in Central Florida backed the law. A significant percent of Hispanics, nearly 60 percent, also backed it. Less than 30 percent of blacks supported the law. A Duke University study in 2012 showed that all-white juries in Florida were more likely to convict a black defendant than mixed ethnic juries. Though Zimmerman isn't black, the defense, as it has from virtually the moment Zimmerman was charged, will pull out all stops to make the case that Zimmerman was the real victim and that Trayvon Martin was the aggressor. In essence this means that jurors will be asked to flip the roles of the defense and prosecution on Zimmerman. That is to see him as the victim and the deceased Martin as the aggressor.
The rule that black defendants inevitably get the short end of the jury stick will be very much in play in the case against Zimmerman. Three years ago an Equal Justice Initiative report found racial discrimination in jury selection is still rampant, even blatant. A Supreme Court ruling and other court rulings that ban all white or non-black juries have been in far too many cases no more than paper decisions that have had little effect in insuring a diverse jury in cases involving black defendants. The same holds true where blacks have been the victims, and whites or non-blacks the defendants, as is the case with Zimmerman. The report found that prosecutors and judges in eight Southern states used a litany of dodges, tactics, and legal ploys to outright exclude blacks from juries, or whittle the number of blacks on juries down. Zimmerman's defense attorneys will almost certainly use the same tactics as prosecutors to insure that few blacks make the final juror cut.
There's a good reason. The report also found that a racially diverse jury weighed evidence and testimony longer and more carefully, brought different perspectives and life experiences to the deliberations, and made fewer factual errors. These are crucial factors in the rare cases where cops are charged with killing young blacks or Hispanics. A jury with no blacks, composed of mostly older middle class whites, and non-black ethnics, is much more likely to believe the testimony of police and prosecution witnesses than black witnesses, defendants, or even the victims.
It was no accident that Zimmerman's attorneys never for a moment did what most defense attorneys do in highly charged, racially tinged cases. That's to ask for a change of venue. With the racial numbers, social and economic demographics and political views of those most likely to be on his jury skewed in his favor, there are few better places than Seminole County for him to get the kind of jury that will be most likely to believe that he did exactly what his defense attorneys contend he did and that's kill Martin in self-defense. Given what Zimmerman's jury will likely look like, he's got much cause for hope.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new ebook is America on Trial: The Slaying of Trayvon Martin (Amazon). He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KTYM 1460 AM Radio Los Angeles and KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network.