Gonzalez v. Florida

555 U.S. 1056, 129 S. Ct. 647, 172 L. Ed. 2d 627 (2008)

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Gonzalez v. Florida

United States Supreme Court
555 U.S. 1056, 129 S. Ct. 647, 172 L. Ed. 2d 627 (2008)

Facts

[Editor’s Note: This casebook excerpt is an amicus brief.] Twelve university professors submitted an amicus brief on the petition for writ of certiorari in Gonzalez v. Florida. The professors encouraged the United States Supreme Court to grant certiorari on the issue of whether criminal juries were permitted to have less than 12 jurors under the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The professors explained that in 1970, the Supreme Court ruled in Williams v. Florida, 399 U.S. 78 (1970) that juries composed of 12 jurors were not required. The Williams Court created what the professors referred to as the functional-equivalence test for analyzing whether juries of various sizes were constitutional. Scholars were almost unanimous in their opinion that application of the test was significantly flawed. According to the professors, the Williams Court did not have much empirical data to analyze, and the Court misinterpreted the data it had. The professors explained that the error in Williams with the greatest constitutional significance was the failure to recognize that, unlike 12-person juries, six-person juries were far less likely to have even one juror from a minority group. More recent empirical studies demonstrated this. The professors asserted that guidance on what the Constitution required regarding jury size was lacking. Eight years after Williams, the Supreme Court had tacitly abandoned the functional-equivalence test in Ballew v. Georgia, 435 U.S. 223 (1978). The Ballew Court unanimously ruled that criminal juries composed of only five jurors did not meet the constitutional minimum. There were four opinions in Ballew, but none used the functional-equivalence test to reach the Court’s holding. After Ballew, there was no consistent method for assessing constitutional questions regarding jury sizes. As was to be expected, a split occurred among the states. The professors asserted that if the Supreme Court did not provide guidance on how to analyze what the Constitution required regarding jury size, confusion would increase. The professors encouraged the Supreme Court to grant certiorari.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning ()

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