ORLANDO, Fla. — With all eyes on Central Florida for the George Zimmerman trial and its aftermath, one question keeps surfacing: Why are juries made up of just six people?
Throughout most of the country, 12 jurors determine the guilt or innocence of suspects in felony trials.
But in Florida and a handful of other states, only six jurors are seated in the majority of felony cases — even in some of the most violent and serious crimes.
This element of Florida’s criminal-justice system was highlighted during Zimmerman’s trial and after his acquittal on second-degree-murder charges in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26, 2012.
When the all-female jury was chosen, critics pointed out the lack of diversity.
And now, in the wake of Zimmerman’s acquittal, Rep. Randolph Bracy, D-Fla., is calling for state leaders to change Florida’s law so that in felony trials, juries must have 12 members.
“It’s more of a jury of one’s peers when you have more jurors,” Bracy explained. “I think that is better for the people of Florida and for our criminal-justice system in general.”
Legal experts and researchers back up Bracy’s premise: that six-member juries are less diverse than 12-member panels, said Susan Rozelle, a law professor at Stetson University College of Law.
Defendants are constitutionally entitled to a fair cross-section of potential jurors, but that doesn’t mean the people who are actually seated for the jury have to demonstrate that diversity, she said.