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Florida Appellate Court Rules on Race and Gender Discrimination During the Jury Selection Process

In a recent opinion, the Florida Second District Court of Appeal discussed the implications of discriminatory practices during the jury selection phase in a criminal trial. In Florida, potential jury members and the parties to a case are entitled to be free from discrimination during the jury selection process. Despite this, an attorney may believe that his or her client will receive more sympathy from a particular race, ethnicity, gender, or another group.

During the jury selection process, an attorney has a limited number of “peremptory challenges” that allow the attorney to exclude a particular tentative jury member from serving on the jury without having to give a reason as to why the attorney does not want that person serving on the jury. When an attorney uses his or her peremptory challenge to excuse a potential juror based on race, ethnicity, or gender, the attorney violates the Equal Protection Clause, denies the parties their right to an impartial jury, and denies the potential juror his or her right to serve on a jury. 

Initially, lawyers were prohibited from excusing potential jurors based on their race under the Equal Protection Clause. In a 1993 case, the State of Florida extended this protection to individuals of a particular ethnicity. In 1994, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the Equal Protection Clause also prevented attorneys from excusing potential jurors based on gender.

In the recent case of Guevara v. State, the Florida Second District Court of Appeal applied this prohibition. The defendant was convicted of using a computer to solicit, lure, entice, or seduce a child to engage in unlawful sexual conduct and one count of traveling to meet a minor to engage in unlawful sexual conduct under Florida Statutes Section 847.0135.

After the conviction, the defendant appealed on the basis that the prosecution improperly used two peremptory challenges to excuse male jurors. The defendant objected to the peremptory challenges during the jury selection process, and the prosecution argued that men were not a protected class. The trial court failed to follow the appropriate procedures for resolving an objection to a peremptory challenge on the basis of potential discrimination, as required by Florida law.

In general, these procedures require the trial court judge to require the party exercising the peremptory challenge to provide a non-discriminatory, neutral reason for using the peremptory challenge. In Guevara, the judge failed to require the prosecution to provide a gender-neutral reason for excusing two male jurors using peremptory challenges. On appeal, the second district reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial.

If you or someone you know is facing criminal liability, it is important to consult an experienced and skilled criminal defense attorney. The criminal justice system can be confusing and difficult to understand. As this case illustrates, it is important to ensure that your case is being handled correctly and fairly at every stage of the process. 

At The Hoffman Firm, our team of sex crimes defense attorneys have helped numerous South Florida residents assert and protect their rights in the face of potential criminal liability. We offer a free and confidential consultation to help you learn about your rights. Call us now at (305) 928-1669 or contact us online.

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