Many of HLN’s Facebook and Twitter followers have asked why there are only six jurors in the George Zimmerman trial.
The simple answer is, because it’s the law.
The Florida rules of criminal procedures say that “twelve persons shall constitute a jury to try all capital cases, and 6 persons shall constitute a jury to try all other criminal cases."
Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder that involved a gun. If convicted, he faces 25 years to life in prison. Zimmerman’s not facing the death penalty, so this is not a capital case.
Historically, the U.S. Supreme Court has taken the position that a criminal jury should be made up of 12 members, but in 1970, the Court reconsidered its position and upheld a conviction by a six-member Florida jury, noting that the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says nothing at all about jury size.
The Sixth Amendment guarantees citizens a right to a trial by an impartial jury of peers, but it doesn’t designate how many peers should be on the jury.
Ultimately, the court concluded that a six-person jury satisfies the Sixth Amendment jury requirement and the 14th Amendment right to due process, but that a jury shouldn’t be any smaller than that. The court also said that any verdict by a jury of six people must be unanimous in criminal cases.
Jury size is generally dictated by statute or the rules of procedure for each state. Ohio, for example, requires 12 jurors for criminal trials, but only eight for civil trials.