Now that George Zimmerman has been charged with second degree murder arising from the February 26, 2012, shooting of Trayvon Martin the obvious question is can he get a fair trial in Florida…or anywhere else for that matter?  The media coverage of this case has been overwhelming, and overwhelmingly sympathetic to Trayvon Martin.  During the course of the investigation Zimmerman was forced into hiding until he turned himself in.  Over two million people signed a petition asking that Zimmerman be prosecuted.  Most media outlets portrayed Zimmerman as a racist who killed Trayvon Martin solely because he was black.  National celebrities ranging from Jesse Jackson to Al Sharpton led a chorus of calls for Zimmerman’s arrest and prosecution.  President Obama even jumped in when he described that if he had son he would look like Trayvon Martin.  Even the media’s careful use of photographs of Zimmerman and Martin told a story of an angry man victimizing an innocent African-American kid.  This type of media coverage has saturated the Florida jury pool.  So the question is, can the justice system work in the wake of the Zimmerman media debacle?  Put another way can George Zimmerman get a fair trial in Florida or anywhere else? 

The State of Florida is not new to controversial criminal jury trials.  Just last year Casey Anthony was found not guilty of charges that she murdered her two year old daughter.  The Anthony case also had overwhelming media coverage although with a significantly different slant.  Notwithstanding, most legal experts agree that Anthony did receive a fair trial.  But it may not be so easy in the Zimmerman case.   Jurors in the Anthony case have been harassed and ostracized and, in some cases, have gone into hiding after their identities became known after voting Anthony should be not guilty.  Will jurors in the Zimmerman case be able to ignore the public sentiment?  Will they be able to vote their conscience and ignore the risks some of the Casey Anthony jurors faced if they believe the evidence showed that Zimmerman was in fact not guilty.

Another potential problem for both prosecutors and defense lawyers in this case is that Florida is a strong pro-gun state.  The Orlando Sentinel reports that approximately one in fifteen people in Florida possesses concealed weapon permits.  Potential jurors in Florida overwhelmingly supported Florida’s Stand Your Ground (“SYG”) law that is the legal centerpiece of the Zimmerman prosecution.  Arguably, jurors who possess a concealed weapon permit and are strong supporters of gun rights may be supportive of Zimmerman.  Some may enthusiastically support Zimmerman in their own effort to level the playing field in light of the overwhelmingly anti-Zimmerman media coverage. 

Remember, this is a case of self-defense.  Zimmerman is likely to assert that he shot Trayvon Martin in self-defense and, under SYG (Florida Statute Title XLVI, Section 776.013) a person such as Zimmerman has no duty to retreat, can stand his ground, and can meet force with force including deadly force to prevent death or great bodily injury.  There are no eye witnesses to the incident between Zimmerman and Martin.  There is no amateur video tape for jurors to dissect.  At most, there is evidence of some 911 audio tape of Zimmerman’s call at the time of the incident.  It is likely that Zimmerman will testify in his own defense at trial.  As such, his credibility will be extremely important.  Can jurors listen to Zimmerman’s testimony and evaluate his credibility clearly and without prejudice?  Or, will jurors be permanently biased by the avalanche of media coverage they absorbed prior to hearing the first syllable of evidence at trial? 

Zimmerman fate, to a large extent, will rest in the hands of his lawyers.  If there ever was a case where expert lawyering was required this is the one.  Zimmerman’s lawyers must be experts at selecting a jury.  They must carefully sift through the biases and prejudices of potential jurors that will deeply affect whether either side can get a fair trial.  Zimmerman’s trial will be won or lost at jury selection.