This week, the George Zimmerman (pictured) murder trial will begin. Here, is an overview to help you stay abreast of the case.
The trial against George Zimmerman for the death of Trayvon Martin will begin with jury selection. This is the most-important phase of the case. In jury selection, the prosecution and the defense attempt to reveal any biases of potential jurors. If they do not remove jurors with biases, the case may be compromised by that juror causing a hung jury or bringing in their biases in their decision of a verdict. These biases may include any history of being a victim of violent crime, if potential jurors have their minds made up about the case, or if they were involved in any organizations that may have racial biases. The potential jurors will be questioned about media exposure and what they know about the case. With the large amount of media coverage and the defense releasing potential evidence to the media, jurors will be heavily questioned about this exposure.
In opening statements, the prosecution and defense get to tell the jury what testimony they expect to come from the witness stand during the trial. The prosecution goes first and the defense goes second. It is very important for each side to establish trust with the jurors and say things that they can definitely show throughout trial. The jurors will be expecting each side to uphold what they say the evidence will be, which is very important for each side to only say what they definitely can prove. Opening statements are not considered evidence in a trial. Only testimony from the witness stand can be considered evidence.
The prosecution will call their witnesses first. They may call witnesses, including forensic and expert witnesses. They will call witnesses who have a firsthand account of what happened because they were there. These witnesses may include the neighbors, anyone who saw the shooting, and those who called 911. Forensic witnesses may include any testimony in reference to DNA, fingerprints, bullets, and any other physical evidence. Forensic witnesses are typically experts in their field and each side will have the opportunity to challenge the expert testimony of the opposing side. It would not shock me if both side had experts stating differences of opinions. We commonly call this “battle of the experts,” with each side trying to show that their expert is more knowledgeable than the other so they can help their case. This has already been displayed in regards to the 911 calls, where expert testimony is being used to determine whose voice is heard screaming on the call. The prosecution intends to call an expert to state the screaming voice may have been Trayvon’s and the defense may call a witness who may dispute that testimony.
After the prosecution finishes, Zimmerman’s defense team can call witnesses to bolster their case. In this trial, Zimmerman has claimed self defense and Zimmerman should take the stand. The self-defense claim means that Zimmerman believes he used deadly force to protect himself from Trayvon; therefore, the jury will be expecting to hear from him as to why. The prosecution will have the opportunity to cross-examine Zimmerman to disprove his claims of self defense and cross examine any witnesses that the defense puts forth.
Watch Zimmerman’s first day of trial here:
Closing arguments are when each side tells the jury their interpretation of the evidence. This is the last time the jury will hear from either side. The prosecution goes first and states why they feel the evidence is enough to convict Zimmerman of murder. They will reiterate the testimony of any witness testifying on their behalf and try to continue to discredit the evidence that the defense put on, explaining why they have proven their case beyond a reasonable doubt.
The defense goes second and will tell the jury their summation of evidence and attempt to show why the prosecution has not proven their case beyond a reasonable doubt. They will attempt to give the jury sound, sensible reasons as to why Zimmerman is not guilty and why his self-defense claim is valid.
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Then the prosecution presents their evidence again. This will be the second closing argument of the prosecution in the Zimmerman case. Since the prosecution has the burden of proof, they get to go twice. The prosecution has the last word in the case and they will hammer home their version of the evidence and why Zimmerman should be found guilty.
The jury will be given the charges and the law that they can consider in their verdict. They will be instructed that they can only consider the evidence heard in the trial and they cannot allow any outside influences to have an impact on deliberations. The verdict must be unanimous, which means every juror must agree. If the jury does not have a unanimous verdict, the case can be deemed a mistrial and the prosecution can choose to go to trial again or dismiss the case.
RELATED: NewsOne’s Coverage of Trayvon Martin
Eric L. Welch Guster is founder and managing attorney of Guster Law Firm in Birmingham, Ala., handling criminal and civil matters, catastrophic injuries, criminal defense, and civil rights litigation. Mr. Guster has become a go-to lawyer for the New York Times, NewsOne, NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, Black America Web, and various radio programs about various court issues and high-profile cases.
Follow Guster on Twitter @ericguster.