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Hoyt v. Florida

Significance

Hoyt v. Florida confirmed the gender bias inherent in the law in the early 1960s, ruling that women could be kept from serving on juries if states felt that their exclusion was warranted.

Gwendolyn Hoyt was convicted of second-degree murder in state court in Hillsborough County, Florida. She had killed her husband with a baseball bat following an argument over his infidelity. The fight resulted when he refused her offer of forgiveness. At her trial, Hoyt pleaded temporary insanity. She was tried before an all-male jury, which resulted from a Florida law that provided that women could serve as jurors only if they specifically requested to be put on the jury rolls (only ten women appeared on the list of ten thousand jurors eligible to serve in Hillsborough County at the time of Hoyt's trial). After she was found guilty, Hoyt appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, declaring that because none of the eligible women served on the jury that convicted her, she had been deprived of her Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection under the law. Hoyt alleged that female jurors would have better understood her plight and would, therefore, have acted as more reliable determiners of her temporary insanity defense than men.

When the state supreme court upheld her conviction, Hoyt appealed her case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Writing for a unanimous Court, Justice Harlan began by reciting a truism of constitutional law, making it clear that women were not granted additional rights under the Fourteenth Amendment:

[T]he right to an impartially selected jury assured by the Fourteenth Amendment . . . does not entitle one accused of a crime to a jury tailored to the circumstances of the particular case . . . It requires only that the jury be indiscriminately drawn from among those eligible in the community for jury service . . .

Unfortunately, this truism fell short of explaining why the jury that tried Gwendolyn Hoyt contained no women. As the Supreme Court had itself recognized 15 years earlier, in Ballard v. United States (1946), a fair cross section of the community--as represented by a jury--would almost certainly include women.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1954 to 1962Hoyt v. Florida - Significance, Court Upholds Double Standard Regarding Jury Service, First Use Of The Temporary Insanity Plea