Florida Jury Trials - You usually only get Six (6) Jurors
Jury Trials are trials where six (6) to twelve (12) people are selected to render a verdict. Under Florida Criminal Law, you only have a right to six (6) jurors unless the case is a Death Penalty case. Numerous commentators have said that this can lead to increased conviction rates and false convictions. I tend to agree: Fewer people means less deliberation and a greater chance of conviction - exactly what our legislators want.
Jurors do not decide legal issues such as whether someone's rights were violated or whether a case should be dismissed. Jurors decided issues about the facts, and the judge decides issues of law.
For example, a person is prosecuted for battery, the defense is that no battery occurred, and the person claiming the battery has lied. The judge would not dismiss the case based upon a defense that the would-be victim has lied. Why? The jurors decide whether the person is lying. The issue of whether the person is lying is a factual issue, not a legal one.
Florida Bench Trials - Juvenile, VOP and VOCC Cases
Bench Trials are where the judge decides both the legal and the factual matters. For example, in a Florida criminal law Bench Trial, the judge could find that the witness lied as a matter of fact because the judge would decide factual issues as well as legal ones.
In Juvenile Delinquency cases, all trials are Bench Trials unless the juvenile has been waived up to adult court in order for the State to argue that the minor should suffer adult punishment.
Trials - the dirty truth
The Florida Criminal Law system is rigged in the favor of the State. We have a very conservative, one party rule state. All three branches are controlled by one party, and I have yet to hear a politician argue that taxpayer money is best spent by being smart about the problem of crime in society. As a result, the evidence code, the number of jurors, and most recently, first and last closing arguments have all been manipulated in order to make it easier for the government to win at trial. Even the budget for the Clerk of Courts and the Judiciary have been attacked in order to coerce more government favorable rulings.
Getting a fair trial is still possible, but difficult. Now, here is the scary part:
I honestly do not believe that you can get a fair trial in federal court. It is so bad, that I absolutely refuse to practice law in our federal court system. In Florida, it is difficult, but you still have a fighting chance.
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