In Florida, the right to trial by jury as opposed to a non-jury trial (trial by Judge) is a right that is available on demand. This means that, except for certain cases where jury trial is guaranteed by the State or Federal Constitution, trial by jury has to be requested. Except for minor offenses, we always recommend a trial by jury.
Unless the offense is a capital offense, a jury in Florida is usually composed of six members as opposed to the more traditional 12. Additionally, one or two alternate jurors are typically selected. A unanimous verdict is required to convict or acquit.
The complexity of jury composition
Trial by jury places responsibility for your liberty in the hands of fellow citizens, who are expected to be impartial and representative of society. While juries are obligated to consider only the facts of the case before them without any external influences, it is often difficult for jurors to leave ingrained prejudices at the door of the court. The importance of selecting a jury that is perceived as fair is therefore of paramount importance to both defense and prosecution.
For example, the selection of the jury in the trial of George Zimmerman reportedly took almost two weeks. The group ultimately selected consists of six women, five of whom are white and one whose ethnicity has not been revealed. Although the ethnic makeup of the area in which the alleged crime took place is more than three-quarters white, George Zimmerman is Hispanic and the victim, Trayvon Martin, was African-American.
Juries are interrogated too
The jury candidates in the Zimmerman trial were subjected to a series of questions by both side’s attorneys concerning their views on guns and gun control law. Reportedly, at least two of the jurors who were selected own guns. This level of detail demonstrates the importance placed on forming a jury with the potential of providing either the prosecution or the accused the outcome that they are pursuing. I have always believed the most important aspect of a trial is jury selection. Good lawyers are not only seeking an impartial jury, but also developing their theme and really beginning the defense of the accused. Jury selection is the only time the lawyer can have open conversations with the jurors so an effective communicator has a real advantage.
If you have been accused of a serious crime, selecting a lawyer who understands jury selection is of great importance. Derek Byrd of The Byrd Law Firm has been practicing in Sarasota Florida for more than 16 years and is a recognized expert in criminal defense. Mr. Byrd has tried more than 100 trials, ranging from DUI to murder.