While watching protests over the verdict in the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case my own experience as a Fla. juror came to mind. It made me wonder if the jury instructions (delivered in closed court) were such that they COULDN’T find GZ Guilty of anything; such as “You may not consider whether the defendant brought about the situation leading to the death of Mr. Martin”. Last night, news reports somewhat confirmed my suspicion.
My experience, in brief: This was in 1978, I was living in Tampa. When I got the Summons To Appear, I gladly took the time to go to the courthouse to join the jury pool. As it happened, I was picked on the first round of questions/first case.
This was an armed robbery case. 2 Black men; one light skinned, one dark skinned; one with close cropped hair, one with a medium afro; one wearing one set of clothes, the other wearing something completely different. The man on trial was charged with Armed Robbery, he was the one holding the gun. Before being picked for this jury, we each had to affirm we understood we were to determine if he was the one holding the gun. That’s it.
Going by testimony, it was obvious the man had participated, but he was not the one holding the gun. The liquor store owners described a dark man with an afro wearing “whatever”. The defendant was light skinned, no trace of a ‘fro (we knew it was cut for jail so didn’t consider it), & the clothes shown to be the defendant’s were NOT the clothes of the armed man as described by the owners.
When we were sent to the jury room, all 12 of us mentioned the discrepancies. We asked to have the testimony read back & to see the clothing again. Again, it was obvious the defendant had participated, but it was also obvious the wrong man was charged with Armed Robbery. It made us sick (a few of us literally), but being good little citizens obeying the Judge’s Instructions, we had to find him Not Guilty.
The Judge, both Attorneys, AND the Defendant all looked shocked. Hell, WE looked shocked, but we had to come up with that verdict, according to the law & the instructions.
Going by the outcome of the TM/GZ case, not much has changed in Florida Law in 35 years.