SCOTUS rejects review of Florida case challenging 6-person juries

The U.S. Supreme Court won’t take up the case of a Florida woman sentenced to eight years in prison by a jury of six people.

Justice Neil Gorsuch dissented from the decision and chided the rest of the court for not considering the case.

“Florida does what the Constitution forbids because of us,” Gorsuch wrote.

Most criminal trials require a 12-person jury. But in Florida and five other states (Arizona, Connecticut, Indiana, Massachusetts and Utah), a six-person jury can be used. In Florida, all non-death penalty criminal trials use six-person juries.

In a brief opposing the motion to take up the case, Attorney General Ashley Moody noted there were more than 5,000 cases in Florida pending appeal over the issue of the size of the jury.

The case originated from a case out of Palm Beach County that resulted in the sentencing of Natoya Cunningham for aggravated battery and retaliation against a witness or informant. Cunningham was accused of going to the home of a confidential informant after her cousin’s arrest for selling cocaine. She didn’t leave after being told to, and proceeded to stab the informant in the arm.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld six-person juries in a 1970 ruling, Edwards v. Florida, which determined that a 12-person jury wasn’t required by the U.S. Constitution, overturning prior precedent.

Gorsuch criticized that ruling, claiming it was based on “bad social science.”

“Really, given the history of the jury trial right before Williams, it was nearly ‘unthinkable to suggest that the Sixth Amendment’s right to a trial by jury is satisfied’ by any lesser number,” Gorsuch wrote. “Yet Williams made the unthinkable a reality.”

Moody, though, argued Florida should be able to continue the six-person jury practice, which it has used since 1877.

“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,” Moody’s brief states. “Unsurprisingly then, Florida has continued its longstanding practice of using six-person juries in trials of noncapital offenses.”

Gorsuch urged Florida voters to step in where he believes the high court fell short and change the law.

“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,” Gorsuch wrote. “If we will not presently shoulder the burden of correcting our own mistake, they have the power to do so. For, no less than this Court, the American people serve as guardians of our enduring Constitution.”

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