Supreme Court declines to decide whether 12-person juries should be required for state felony cases

Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts and Utah allow six- or eight-member juries to decide felony cases.

ByJohn Fritze, CNN CNNWire logo
Tuesday, May 28, 2024
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WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court declined Tuesday to hear a number of cases questioning whether state court juries must have a dozen members when they are weighing serious criminal charges.

A series of appeals challenging Florida's use of six-member juries has been pending at the Supreme Court for months. Six states - Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts and Utah - allow six- or eight-member juries to decide felony cases.

The criminal defendants asserted that the practice violates the 6th Amendment.

Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote a dissent from the decision to deny the cases.

"If there are not yet four votes on this court to take up the question," Gorsuch wrote, "I can only hope someday there will be."

"In the meantime," Gorsuch wrote, "nothing prevents the people of Florida and other affected states from revising their jury practices to ensure no government in this country may send a person to prison without the unanimous assent of 12 of his peers."

Florida officials told the Supreme Court the state has been using six-member juries since 1877. And they said that roughly 5,000 criminal convictions were pending on appeal because of the issue.

"For nearly as long as states have had a Sixth Amendment duty to provide criminal jury trials, this court's message to the people of Florida has been clear: the jury structure that they have settled on for a century and a half fulfills that duty," state officials told the Supreme Court.

Four years ago, in a case called Ramos v. Louisiana, the Supreme Court banned the use of non-unanimous juries for felonies that had been the practice in Louisiana and Oregon.

The defendants said the practice in Florida has its roots in the Jim Crow-era and a desire to prevent Black Americans from serving on juries.

The Supreme Court declined a similar appeal in 2022 from Arizona. At the time, two conservative justices - Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh - said they would have heard the case. Pointing to a 1970 precedent that allowed fewer than 12 jurors, Gorsuch wrote that the opinion was "wrong the day it was decided" and that it "impairs both the integrity of the American criminal justice system and the liberties of those who come before our nation's courts."

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