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Your Life, Six Peers:

Why Florida Needs a 12-Person Jury System

By: Joshua E. Rodgers
October 11, 2013

Over the years, statisticians have proven that as one reduces a sample size, there is also a loss of accurate representation of the population as a whole.  Furthermore, as sample size is reduced, the margin of error for an experiment’s results increases significantly which makes the results of an experiment very erratic.  As sound as these theories are in the scientific community, it can be implied from the reading of the Florida Statutes that the State of Florida has no grasp on the application of statistics in its legal system.  Under the section titled ‘Number of Jurors,’ the Florida Statutes mandate that all non-capital cases shall be composed of only six jurors.  Fla. Stat. § 913.10 (2013); see also Fla. R. Crim. P. § 3.270.  Thus, the only time a 12-person jury is allowed in the State of Florida is in a criminal prosecution trial for premeditated murder; every other crime – including second-degree murder, manslaughter, rape, battery, etc. – is left to the decision of merely six jurors.

Florida law has mandated the six-person jury following a decision in Williams v. Florida, 399 U.S. 78 (1970), in which the Supreme Court erred in stating that the twelve-person jury requirement was a “historical accident” and was never expressly mandated.  Id.  Scholars point out, in decent, that the twelve-person jury system was required through 700 years of common law history as well as an additional 183 years of U.S. Constitutional history, and it was absolutely not an accident.  60 Fla. L. Rev. 441.  By the Williams’ standard, it can be conversely argued that limiting juries to only twelve jurors, for trials such as capital murder, etc., is not enough and would only be just if the numbers were increased in order to ensure an accurate jury decision.  Other areas of the Florida judicial system already share this point of view, particularly the Florida Grand Juries which include no less than 15 and as many as 21 persons during their tribunals.  Fla. Stat. § 905.01 (2013).  How can one judicial tribunal mandate 15-21 jurors, for crimes ranging across the board, and another judicial tribunal, of the same state, mandate only 6 jurors for all non-capital murder trials?

Never have the stakes been so high in jury decision trials since the passing of Florida’s 10/20/Life Law.  Fla. Stat. § 775.087 (2013).  This law creates mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines of either 10, 20, or 30 years for the use of a firearm during the commission of a forcible felonyId.  Unfortunately, Section 776.08 of the Florida Statutes broadly defines a “forcible felony” as either: treason; murder; manslaughter; sexual battery; carjacking; home-invasion robbery; robbery; burglary; arson; kidnapping; aggravated assault; aggravated battery; aggravated stalking; aircraft piracy; unlawful throwing, placing, or discharging of a destructive device or bomb; or any other felony which involves the use or threat of physical force or violence against any individual.  Fla. Stat. § 776.08 (2013) (emphasis added).  The catch-all phrase at the end of § 776.08 makes it very easy for jurors to sentence a defendant, for a crime that would otherwise carry a light sentence, if any sentence at all, for well over a decade in prison, merely by the fact that the defendant had a firearm on his persons during the broadly-defined forcible felony in which he has been charged.  Furthermore, this scenario becomes exponentially complicated when a defendant fails to prove their case for self-defense to an easily-manipulated six-person jury.

There have been many attempts to correct the provisions of the 10/20/Life statute, as well as the statute defining forcible felony.  As recent as early-2013, several bills were submitted to the Florida House and Senate in order to edit these statutes, including: HB 193/SB 1078, Sentences of Inmates; HB 501/SB 988, Possession or Discharge of Firearm or Destructive Device During Commission of Specified Offenses; and SB 1670, Assault Weapons and Magazines.  Unfortunately, all of these bills died in the Criminal Justice subcommittees with no guarantee of being revived in 2014.  It seems evident that the State of Florida has no interest in changing the 10/20/Life or forcible felony statutes as they are currently written.  Therefore, the State of Florida must better ensure that its pools of jurors are making accurate decisions.

Although proponents of the 6-person jury cite reduced administrative costs, we argue that their erratic decisions in crucial cases lead to more convictions and longer sentencing, thus, clogging the correctional institutions of the State of Florida and putting an even larger financial burden on its constituents.  The difference in administrative costs between a 6- and 12-person jury is negligible when compared to what it costs the State of Florida to house a felon for 10 years, 20 years, or Life.  However, with its reluctancy to amend the 10/20/Life or forcible felony statutes, the State of Florida seems to prefer to imprison its citizens and force the taxpayers to fit the bill.

With an accused citizen’s future being held solely in the hands of a jury, it is not only logical, but obligatory, to limit the margin of error as much as possible.  Therefore, in order to better ensure a just decision in these crucial cases, the Florida Legislature must abandon its justification under Williams v. Florida and amend Fla. Stat. § 913.10 and Fla. R. Crim. P. § 3.270 to mandate a 12-person jury for all trials.  If so sought by a defendant, there should also be an option to opt out of the 12-person mandate for a 6-person jury in less crucial cases (e.g. non-homicide trials).  In a judicial system where trials are decided by a jury of one’s peers, we must reflect on and adopt the proven principles of statistics to realize that a larger sample size of jurors is more representative of the total population of peers and effectively results in more accurate legal decision-making.  And if not statistics, we must rely on our common sense to realize that for almost a millennium of judicial history, the 12-person jury system was commanded by our leaders; and “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”