A Half-Dozen or a Dozen Jurors

November 17, 2023

12 Angry Men 

A 1957 legal drama film that tells the story of a jury of 12 men as they deliberate, often angrily, whether to convict or acquit a teenager charged with murder. Starring Henry Fonda as the champion of reasonable doubt during jury deliberations, the film is entirely set inside a “jury room.” It was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay at the 30th Academy Awards.

In federal trial courts, defendants are allowed a jury of 12 in all felony cases with alternate jurors selected for the replacement of any excused juror(s) as needed.

However, in Florida state courts, most defendants have their case verdicts decided by a jury of 6 pursuant to Fla. Stat. § 913.10 (“Twelve persons shall constitute a jury to try all capital cases, and six persons shall constitute a jury to try all other criminal cases.”). In Florida, capital felony offenses include murder punishable by death or life in prison, capital drug trafficking, armed kidnapping, and other crimes punishable by life in prison without possibility of parole. Capital cases involve the most serious category of criminal offenses, and only those cases are entitled to a jury of 12 in Florida state courts.

Some criminal defense lawyers still argue that convictions by a jury of 6 violate the U.S. Constitution.

However, the Supreme Court held in Williams v. Florida, 399 U.S. 78 (1970) that the six-person jury provided by Florida statute for all cases except for capital cases is constitutionally permissible. The Court has not revised its opinion in Williams in any subsequent case. Therefore, there is no authority to overrule that precedent from the Supreme Court which endorsed the use of a jury with only six members as constitutional. In the eyes of the highest Court, juries of either a half-dozen or a dozen persons are constitutionally permissible.

On November 15, 2023, the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Owensby v. State, 2023 Fla. App. LEXIS 7831, per curiam affirmed a conviction rejecting a public defender’s contention that the defendant was entitled to a jury of 12 rather than the jury of 6 required by law. See § 913.10, supra. Appellant was not charged with a capital felony.


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