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Earl Ofari Hutchinson
The speculation has been non-stop over whether an all-female jury is a good or bad thing for accused Trayvon Martin shooter George Zimmerman. There is no consensus on this. But the view of women jurors in major case trials is rife with myths, stereotypes, and preconceptions. Researchers have found that in the decades before and even after the Supreme Court ruling in 1979 that knocked out biased exclusions of jurors based on gender, there’s still the deeply embedded notion that women jurors are different than men in that they are more easily swayed by emotions, more likely to be emphatic to defendants and less predictable in how they will decide a case, even one that on the surface appears to be a lock for the prosecution.
A series of informal studies and the experiences of defense attorneys in major criminal cases have continued to try to find differences between female and male juries and jurors.
They claim that women are more compassionate than men in most criminal cases, but they can be ruthless when it comes to sex crimes. Men tend to be harder on defendants. Women are sympathetic to mistreatment. As one seasoned criminal defense attorney noted, "Like black people, they are sensitive to injustice because they have had a lot of it put on them."
Majority female juries came under much scrutiny and criticism after they voted to acquit O.J. Simpson. The criticism was not just that their decision to acquit Simpson allegedly was a race biased decision but also that as females they were supposedly more sympathetic to the defense. Jurors that spoke for the record following the verdict hotly denied that race, gender or empathy toward celebrity Simpson had anything to do with their decision to acquit him. They were virtually unanimous that the prosecution presented a jumbled, slipshod, and badly tainted case that came nowhere close to meeting the hard legal requirement for conviction of guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Most legal experts when the emotional dust finally settled in the case agreed that the prosecution badly bungled the case.
Despite the volumes of studies on juror attitudes, none have conclusively found any evidence that women are less capable then men of weighing the evidence, testimony, and arguments of prosecutors and defense attorneys and arriving at an objective decision in a case based on the quality of the evidence for and against a defendant. There is no real evidence that majority female juries have a higher acquittal rate of defendants than majority male jurors.
Zimmerman’s fate, as Simpson’s and countless other defendants that majority women juries have decided, will be determined as always on how vigorous, professional, and pointed the prosecution presents its case against him. And how well prosecutors parry the ploy of defense attorneys to relentlessly try to paint Zimmerman as a victim of Martin while further impugning Martin’s character. If it does its job, Zimmerman will fare no better or worse than he would if he faced an all or majority male jury.
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.
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