Bill Increasing Florida's Jury Size Pits Public Defenders Against State Attorneys

Feb 14, 2014

A bill seeking to increase the number of jurors in cases where the accused could face a life sentence is now beginning to move in both chambers of the Florida Legislature. But, it’s an issue that’s pitting the state’s public defenders and prosecutors against one another.

Currently, only capital cases require 12-person juries in Florida. Orlando Democratic Representative Randolph Bracy’s bill would expand that to include those that could result in life imprisonment. The bill has the support of Florida Public Defenders Association.

“We think this bill will create a better cross-section, so that people will have a jury of their peers, and will produce fewer wrongful convictions,” said Nancy Daniels, the public defender for the 2nd Circuit.

But, the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association's General Counsel Buddy Jacobs says if lawmakers want to propose a study to look into whether the state should expand Florida juries, he’d be all for that. But, he says for now, State Attorneys don’t believe the system is broken.

“This appears to us to be a solution looking for a problem. We have not heard of a problem with the system as it is today. Whenever ya’ll pass laws, you have a purpose and a reason. And, I have not heard of any reasons expressed that this ought to be done. Are you seeking more convictions, less convictions? What is the reason for doing this,” said Jacobs.

Still, the bill passed the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee unanimously. Meanwhile, in its first hearing, its Senate companion passed only narrowly, 4-3.

Meanwhile, according to the panel’s legislative staff, the measure could create more hung juries or juries returning with a less-than-unanimous verdict.

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