Florida Legislators Propose Changes to Jury Composition

August 19, 2013

The Florida legislature will soon decide whether to change the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure relating to the number of jurors required to hear and decide the outcome of certain criminal cases. Miami criminal defense attorneys and lawyers from across the State of Florida have dealt with changes in the law over the years, but changing the rules regarding the number of jurors required to hear a case do not come along that often. As the law currently stands in the State of Florida, 12 persons are required to make up a jury in only capital cases. Miami Senator Gwen Margolis filed a bill that seeks to significantly alter the type of cases that will require 12 jurors to render a verdict.. As submitted, the bill proposes that 12 jurors be empaneled on more than just capital cases.

Currently, the law requires that 12 jurors be empaneled in capital cases. Capital cases under Florida law include first-degree premeditated murder, 1st degree felony murder, capital drug trafficking, and capital sexual battery. However, in reality, the only cases that require 12 jurors are those that carry the death penalty. In 1972 the United States Supreme Court in Furman v. Georgia, held that all statutes that permitted the death penalty were unconstitutional. However, death penalty cases were once again permitted in murder cases in 1979. Although Florida has delineated certain criminal offenses as capital, only murder cases allow for the death penalty. Therefore, as the law stands, 12 jurors are only required in murder cases punishable by the death penalty.

In Miami and across the State of Floirda, 6 member juries are permitted in all cases except 1st degree murder which require that 12 jurors listen to the evidence and decide the guilt or innocence of a defendant. The media attention garnered in the recent Zimmerman case has called into question whether six jurors are enough to fairly resolve serious cases. The new bill proposes that 12 jurors should be required to pass judgement on cases involving other than 1st degree murder chage(s). The proposed legislation would require 12 jurors for all capital offenses and life felonies. If the law is passed, 12 jurors would be required in all murder cases, certain drug trafficking cases, numerous sexual battery and lewd and lascivious cases, and multiple violent offenses, such as armed robbery, carjacking, home invasion robberies and kidnapping.

Since the 1970's, Florida has allowed 6 jurors to decide the fate of defendants charges with serious offenses, especially those offense that carry the potential penalty of life in prison. The United States Supreme Court has ruled in the past that a 6 person jury satisfies the 6th Amendment and 14th Amendment rights to due process. The court also ruled that although a 6 person jury was constitutional, the verdict must be unanimous. If the bill is passed into law, defendants charged with capital and life offenses would benefit if they decide to go to trial. The rest of the cases punishable by less than life will still only be entitled to 6 jurors. The benefits of a twelve member jury are evident. It is always more difficult for the prosecution to convince a jury of a person's guilt with 12 jurors rather than 6. The 6 additional jurors will add different life experience and perspective to a case in the deliberation room. For defendants charged with capital offenses and life felonies a change in the law could not come at a better time

Senator Margolis Proposes 12 Member Jurors in Felony Cases, CBSlocal.com, August 18, 2013.