The American criminal justice system is premised on having a neutral party make an impartial judgment about the essential matters of a case. While the judge inhabits the position of a neutral arbiter of law—such as the admissibility of certain evidence—a panel of ordinary citizens typically decides matters of fact—such as whether a particular witness is credible or not.
However, the right to a jury trial is not guaranteed for all criminal cases. This blog examines the right to a trial by jury as recognized under Florida laws.
The Right to a Jury Trial in Florida
Under Florida law, only certain cases implicate an individual’s right to a jury trial. In criminal cases, the right to a jury is preserved for most cases, while many civil cases dispense with the right to a jury entirely. That is because Florida’s constitution as interpreted by the Florida Supreme Court only preserves the right to a jury trial for cases that were traditionally tried by juries at the time the constitution was ratified.
The following are examples of cases that are typically tried with juries:
- Felony crimes
- Certain misdemeanor offenses
- Certain personal injury torts
- Breach of contract cases
Cases that typically don’t have juries include, among others:
- Juvenile cases
- Probate proceedings
- Minor traffic violations
The Jury Selection Process
In Florida, juries are assembled using a thorough process known as “voir dire,” an old French term that means “to speak the truth.” When you receive a court summons for jury duty, you must first go through the jury selection process. This process is designed to determine whether a juror is qualified to act as an impartial judge of the evidence presented by the parties. A juror must have the capacity to serve on a jury and be able to put aside their personal experiences to objectively assess the case before them.
Many people who try to avoid jury duty think they can do so by claiming to be too biased to act as an objective trier of fact. While it’s true that no one can ignore their personal biases to become perfectly objective, claiming to be too biased is not the greatest strategy for getting out of jury duty.
For one, making false claims to the court during voir dire is technically perjury. For another, bias against a party is helpful for the opposing party. During voir dire, the attorneys representing the parties get to interview the jurors to screen them for potential issues that could work against their clients. The parties can eliminate a juror
The parties can then remove jurors from the panel by exercising what are known as “peremptory challenges.” Peremptory challenges allow the parties to remove a juror without giving a reason. However, there are only a limited number of peremptory challenges that a party can exercise.
In Florida, peremptory challenges for criminal cases are limited as follows:
- Ten challenges for felonies punishable by death or life prison terms
- Six challenges for all other felonies
- Three challenges for misdemeanors
- One peremptory challenge for alternate jurors
The parties can also remove jurors based on a disqualifying matter, such as prejudice. This is sometimes referred to as a “for-cause” challenge. Although the parties are not limited in the number of for-cause challenges they can exercise, they must support the challenge with evidence and the opposing party is allowed to contest the challenge. “For-cause” challenges essentially become time-consuming mini-trials on the juror’s qualifications, and are therefore rare.
Need a Lawyer? Contact The Virga Law Firm, P.A. Today
If you are worried about a legal issue affecting your life—whether it’s a criminal charge, divorce, eviction, or mounting debt—you can benefit from the services of a qualified legal professional. At The Virga Law Firm, P.A., we have experience with a wide range of legal matters. Florida residents have come to trust our dedication to justice, and so can you.
Call us at (800) 822-5170 or visit us online to arrange a consultation with one of our esteemed attorneys about your case today.