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 other 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.