Court Holds Defendants in Florida Capital Cases Have a Right to a 12 Person Jury Regardless of Penalty Sought

Anyone charged with a crime has the inalienable right to a trial in front of a jury of his or her peers. Under Florida law, a trial for a capital case requires a panel of twelve jurors, while all other crimes may be tried before six jurors.

A Florida District Court of Appeal recently analyzed whether a defendant was entitled to a panel of twelve jurors in a case in which the state waived the right to seek the death penalty, and ultimately ruled that the decision not to impose the death penalty did not change the capital nature of the crime. If you live in St. Petersburg and are charged with a criminal offense it is prudent to consult a seasoned St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney to discuss your case and develop a plan of action to help you retain your rights.

Procedural Background

The defendant was indicted for several crimes, including first-degree murder, which is a capital offense. The State waived the right to seek the death penalty. The trial court issued an order that required the defendant to be tried before a six-person jury. The State filed a petition seeking to quash the motion. The appellate court granted the petition.

Right to a Twelve Person Jury in Capital Cases

In its analysis, the court noted that the defendant was charged with first-degree murder, which is a capital offense. The court stated that the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure provide for a twelve-person jury in all capital cases.  The court held that if the State waives the right to the death penalty in a case where the defendant is charged with a capital offense it does not mean the defendant has waived his right to a trial in front of a panel of twelve jurors.

Further, the court explained that the fact that the State is not seeking the death penalty does not change the nature of the offense from capital to noncapital, or affect the defendant’s entitlement to a twelve-person jury. While a defendant can be convicted of a capital crime by fewer than twelve jurors, such a conviction is only valid if the defendant has waived his or her right to a panel of twelve jurors. Here, the defendant did not waive his right to a twelve-person jury. As such, the court found that the trial court departed from the essential requirements under Florida law by issuing an order stating that the defendant was to be tried before a six-person jury. Thus, the trial court order was quashed.

Set Up a Consultation with a Seasoned St. Petersburg Criminal Defense Attorney

The State is required to uphold the standards set forth under Florida law which were enacted to afford criminal defendants certain rights and protections. If you are currently facing criminal charges in St. Petersburg, you should consult a seasoned St. Petersburg defense attorney to discuss your available defenses. William Hanlon of Hanlon Law is an experienced St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney with the knowledge and skill to assist you in seeking a successful outcome under the facts of your case. Mr. Hanlon can be reached at 727-897-5413 or through the online form to set up a consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Murder Defendant in Florida Appeals Conviction, November 18, 2018, St. Petersburg Sex Crimes Lawyer Blog