A lot a movement has happened in State v. Jodi Arias in the past couple days leading up to the status conference scheduled for Monday, August 26. It is anticipated that the firm trial date will be scheduled on Monday. Additionally, the Judge may rule on the Defense's motions regarding potential jurors and Twitter accounts, extended voir dire time and no or limited camera coverage.
First, a firm trial is just that, a firm date. In our circles it is the actual date that the trial is to start, not a target date but the ACTUAL date. The re-trial of the mitigation part of the penalty phase in Arias will start with the selection of a new jury of 12 persons and I predict at least 4 alternates.
Here is a simple explanation of each request and my take on each:
1. Motion regarding Twitter accounts – The Defense has requested Judge Stephens allow it to monitor the Twitter accounts of the actual jurors. Why they have to ask for this is beyond me because anyone can watch a person's Twitter account. What this motion really means is that the Defense wants to ask the potential jurors about their Twitter accounts and for the Court to instruct them that they have to divulge the information. No where in the Motion is the Defense requesting log in and password information so it is not asking for anything that would be deemed, at least legally, private.
The Defense has a solid ground upon which to base this Motion. State v. Arias was played out on national TV, especially on HLN. This led to a HUGE number of social media entries on Twitter, Facebook, Google + and other streams. Additionally, one of the alternate jurors, Tara Kelly, explained after the trial she thought she was allowed to read social media but just could not respond. I believe this Motion is solid, there are no reasonable or logical grounds to object, and that it should be granted in the interests of justice.
2. Motion regarding extended voir dire time – The Defense has requested Judge Stephens allow it to not only question each potential juror individually and in private, but also to have unlimited time in doing so. “Voir dire” is the name for the process of questioning and selecting a jury. Seldom does it happen like what you see on TV. Lawyers do not usually get a lot of time to ask the potentials about their thoughts one on one, especially in smaller trials and lower level crimes. There is more opportunity to do so in murder cases such as this one.
The Defense also has solid ground for this Motion, at least regarding individual questioning. I think the first part of voir dire, where each potential states their name, occupation, spouse's occupation and any prior jury service should be done as a group. No need to waste the time of pulling them in individually for this one. However, this case received so much media attention and lasted so long that I believe it would serve the interests of justice to question them individually on everything else. In doing so Nurmi, Wilmott, Martinez and Judge Stephens will all be able to garner more in depth information from each juror. This can only lead to a greater chance of having a fair and impartial jury.
~Will it take a huge amount of additional time? Yes it will.
~Could it stop any possible appellate issues regarding jury selection? Yes it could.
In the weighing and balancing I believe it is reasonable to grant the Motion with the understanding that Judge Stephens can always put a stop to the process if it becomes abusive.
3. Motion regarding cameras – The Defense has requested Judge Stephens essentially reverse the order allowing cameras in the courtroom and forbid it; or, in the alternative, record the trial and then air it only AFTER it is over. Of course I personally dislike this motion since I have been following the trial, including actually being in the courtroom. However, from a defense perspective I can understand it.
I believe the Defense is concerned with how the jury can and, in its mind, will, be influenced by the media and the public. To believe that the potential jurors will not watch the trial on TV or radio, not read about it on social media and not hear all the analysts and public opinions is a fallacy. The chances of the jury seeing/reading/hearing something about State v. Arias outside of the courtroom is absolute – it will happen. The next question is whether that will influence the juror and that my friends can only be answered by the juror themselves, although the influence could happen unconsciously or subconsciously. Bottom line, the Defense does not want to even take the chance.
I could see Judge Stephens granting the Motion in order to be safe. This will result in outrage from the networks and a possible involvement by the presiding judge, all because cameras were allowed in the first place. However, Judge Stephens does have discretion to grant the motion. She cannot keep the media out of the courtroom because it is a public courtroom; however, she can order no cameras, no recording devices and can order no air time until after the trial is completely over.
Overall, these Defense motions each have a solid basis in reason, fact and procedure. I know the public does not want to hear that but it is the truth. I would not be surprised if the judge grants each one. I of course do not want the last one to be granted and I do not care about the first two because I think they are asking for safeguards for a fair trial. As a former prosecutor, current defense attorney and legal analyst, I of course want a fair trial.