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Orlando Criminal Defense Lawyer > Blog > Criminal > Why Does Florida Still Have Six-Member Criminal Juries?

Why Does Florida Still Have Six-Member Criminal Juries?


Dating back to 1215, when English barons imposed the Magna Carta on King John, it has been widely accepted under the common law that a person accused of a felony or other serious crime has the right to a trial by jury. The United States, which inherited the English common law system, continued that practice even after the former British colonies won their independence. Under this common law understanding, a trial by jury had two key elements: (1) the jury was composed of 12 persons; and (2) a guilty verdict required unanimous agreement.

Most states continue to follow these two principles to the present day. Two states–Oregon and Louisiana–actually allowed for non-unanimous jury verdicts in criminal cases. But the United States Supreme Court struck that practice down in a 2020 decision, Ramos v. Louisiana. In that case, the Court conclusively held that the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which guaranteed the right to a jury trial in all criminal cases, unequivocally required “that a jury must reach a unanimous verdict in order to convict.”

Will the Supreme Court Intervene?

But what about the 12-member requirement? Florida law has long provided for six-member juries in non-capital criminal cases. In other words, unless you are facing the death penalty, the state only requires a six-person jury to hear the case and potentially convict a defendant.

Florida first adopted the six-member jury rule in 1877, shortly after federal troops withdrew from the state at the end of Reconstruction. The timing was not coincidental. As with Louisiana and Oregon’s provision for non-unanimous verdicts, Florida’s jury rule was part of the legacy of Jim Crow. Indeed, during the Supreme Court arguments in the Ramos case, both states admitted that race–specifically a desire to dilute the political influence of newly freed Blacks–was a principal factor in abandoning the common law rules governing jury trials.

That said, the Ramos decision only struck down the rule against jury unanimity. It left in place another Supreme Court decision from 1970, Williams v. Florida, which upheld Florida’s six-member jury rule. In a 2022 case, Guzman v. State, the Florida Second District Court of Appeals rejected a constitutional challenge to the six-member rule, noting that Ramos did not expressly overrule Williams. Nevertheless, one of the judges on the Second District panel wrote separately to observe that Ramos repudiated much of the historical and legal analyses relied upon by the Supreme Court in Williams. As the judge put it, Ramos is “like Wile E. Coyote momentarily suspended in midair after running off a cliff, Williams hovers in the legal ether, waiting for further examination by the Supreme Court.”

In fact, the defendant in the Guzman case has asked the United States Supreme Court to reconsider the constitutionality of the six-person rule. The Supreme Court is not obligated to take the case, however, so it may be some time before this issue is given a full hearing.

Contact Joshi Law Today

Trial by jury is just one of many critical rights afforded all persons accused of a crime in Florida. There is also the right to work with an experienced Orlando criminal defense attorney. If you need to speak with a lawyer, call the Joshi Law Firm, PA, today at 844-GO-JOSHI or contact us online to schedule a free initial consultation.



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