Civil Jury Trials and the Basics of Peremptory and Cause Juror Challenges
Civil jury trials in a Florida state court require 6 jurors. See Fla.Stat. s. 69.071. The court also generally directs for 1 or 2 alternate jurors to be selected. See Fla.R.Civ.P. 1.431(g).
During jury selection in civil trials, or the voir dire process, parties have peremptory challenges and challenges for cause that are used to strike a prospective juror(s) from being sworn on the jury panel. These challenges are a very important component of the jury trial process designed to not only prevent biased or partial jurors from being sworn to the jury panel (challenges for cause), but to allow a party to strike a certain number of prospective jurors that are not preferable to their trial themes / strategies for reasons other than a discriminatory basis (peremptory challenges).
Each party is entitled to 3 peremptory challenges. See Fla.R.Civ.P. 1.431(d). Peremptory challenges entitle a party to strike a prospective jury for any reason although that reason CANNOT be discriminatory / racially motivated. See Melbourne v. State, 679 So.2d 759 (Fla. 1996). Let’s say a plaintiff sues a defendant. During jury selection, each party will have 3 peremptory challenges. But, let’s say a plaintiff sues 2 different defendants. Under Florida law, each side is entitled to the same number of peremptory challenges. Since there are 2 defendants and each defendant is entitled to 3 peremptory challenges, this means that the entire defense has 6 peremptory challenges. In this scenario, it would be unfair for the plaintiff to have an unequal number than the defendants’ total so the plaintiff is entitled to have 6 peremptory challenges. See Fla.R.Civ.P. 1.431(d).
If the court directs alternate jurors, each party is entitled to 1 peremptory challenge but the same rule applies that each side is entitled to an equal number of peremptory challenges. See Fla.R.Civ.P. 1.431(g).
There is not a cap on the number of cause challenges but the basis for the cause challenge MUST be stated with specificity and determined by the judge. A challenge for cause is moving to strike a juror because that juror cannot be fair or impartial. See Fla.R.Civ.P. 1.431(c) (explaining cause challenges in civil trials); Fla.Stat. s. 913.03 (factors that allow a juror to be stricken for cause in criminal trials). “[I]f there is reasonable doubt about the juror’s ability to be fair and impartial, the juror should be dismissed for cause.” Four Wood Consulting, LLC v. Fyne, 981 So.2d 2, 4-5 (Fla. 4th DCA 2007).
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