Unanimous Verdicts in Florida State Courts Required

In Florida, and every state in America other than Louisiana and Oregon, in order for the government to convict someone of a crime it must be by a unanimous verdict. What this means in Pensacola or other Florida criminal courts is that all six jurors must be unanimous in their verdict. In Florida criminal courts, only Defendant’s charged with first degree murder are entitled to twelve member juries. There is case law that supports if one of the twelve in a murder case, or one of the six in a non-murder case, becomes for any reason incapable of serving as a jury on the case once the trial has begun, a stipulation between the parties may allow the trial to proceed with a verdict based upon the smaller number of jurors. This rarely occurs because in most cases alternate jurors are selected at the beginning of the trial for the very reason if one of the jurors becomes incapable of serving the alternate will then fill the missing juror’s place. People are not told who are or who not alternate jurors are so that all the jurors will pay close attention to the evidence during the trial. However, in Florida, even if less than six or twelve are allowed to reach a verdict, the verdict must be unanimous. In all federal courts, which require twelve member juries is all criminal cases, the verdict must be unanimous. If the defendant in a criminal case chooses, and he or she initiates the waiver, a Florida jury may return a binding less than unanimous verdict. Flanning v. State, 597 So. 2d 864 (Fla. 3rd DCA 1992). (Why on God’s green earth a defendant would ever do this, I don’t know. I guess an exceptional situation may exist where the defendant feels confident that the majority of jurors are going to find him not guilty; however, in my opinion, at the very least, this “assumption” would have to carefully weighed agaist whether the prosecution would re-try the defendant).

This is not the case in the States of Louisiana and Oregon. In those states, an 11-1 or 10-2, will result in conviction of a criminal defendant. These two state’s non-unanimous verdict requirements were recently “denied review” by the U. S. Supreme Court in Troy Barbour v. State of Louisiana. More practically speaking, Mr. Barbour had requested that the U.S. Supreme Court review the Louisiana state court jury system and mandate it to require unanimous jury verdicts in all criminal cases. This positiion was even supported by “The American Bar Association,” generally known as a somewhat conservative organization. The ABA stated in its amicus curie brief that research has shown that non-unanimous jury verdicts in criminal trials “fail to foster thorough jury deliberation, attention to minority viewpoints or community confidence in jury verdicts.” In its brief, the ABA requests that the court conclude that criminal defendants in state jury trials should have the same right to a unanimous jury verdict as criminal defendants in federal jury trials. The U.S. Supreme Court chose to not even hear the Louisiana case therefore the law remains in Louisiana and Oregon that citizens can be convicted by a less than unanimous jury verdict in criminal cases.

In America, if a jury fails to reach a verdict, which is known as a “hung” or “dead-locked” jury, the State or Federal government has the option of re-trying the defendant. How long a jury deliberates before it is declared “hung” or “dead-locked” is a matter within the discretion of the trial court judge in the State of Florida. Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.560.