Has the Defense Checkmated Itself in Trayvon Martin Murder Case

February 19, 2013

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Esentrick posted this comment at 12:44 am last night regarding my post,

“Professor could you explain, when you have a chance, Estes vs. Texas, 1965 in which the Supreme Court ruled that media coverage by its nature may taint potential jurors and damage a defendant’s ability to receive a fair trial? and how would Chandler v. Florida apply?

I chose this comment because it provides me with an opportunity to expound on yesterday’s post

Good question.

In Chandler, the SCOTUS in effect overruled the Estes prohibition against televising legal proceedings, leaving it up to the states to formulate rules controlling how the media may televise legal proceedings, including trials. In Chandler, the SCOTUS approved the Florida Supreme Court rule that the trial court applied to television coverage of the trial.

I do not believe the issue is whether the Zimmerman hearings can be televised. They have and they will continue to be televised.

The issue is what can the trial court do to minimize, if not eliminate, the potential prejudice to the defendant’s right to a fair trial by a fair and impartial jury that might result from the Court denying the defendant’s claim that he killed Trayvon in self-defense.

The problem is timing.

I believe Judge Nelson will reject the defendant’s claim of self-defense at the conclusion of a televised immunity hearing watched by a nationwide audience of millions. I also believe that 500 people in Seminole County will be receiving a summons to jury duty just after she announces her decision.

I imagine that many of those 500 people will report for jury duty knowing that the Court rejected the defendant’s claim of self-defense and those who have not heard the news will know it within 10 minutes after they enter the courthouse.

Will it be possible to seat a fair and impartial jury when every potential juror in the pool knows that Judge Nelson rejected the defendant’s claim of self-defense?

I do not know the answer, but I do know that, if I were the defendant, I would waive my right to an immunity hearing to avoid finding out the answer.

To be clear, I have no sympathy for the defendant and his defense team because they could have scheduled the immunity hearing long ago. Instead of trying their case in an immunity hearing, however, they chose to try it in the court of public opinion. Instead of gaining support, they have caused controversy and lost support. Now they have checkmated themselves.

For additional information on the intersection of the people’s right to know, which is protected by the First Amendment, and the defendant’s right to be tried by a fair and impartial jury, which is protected by the Sixth Amendment, please read Chandler v. Florida, 449 U.S. 560 (1981).


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