Hoyt v. Florida
368 U.S. 57 (1961)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Hoyt v. Florida, 368 U.S. 57 (1961)

Hoyt v. Florida

No. 31

Argued October 19, 1961

Decided November 20, 1961

368 U.S. 57



Appellant, a woman, killed her husband and was convicted in a Florida state court of second-degree murder. She claimed that her trial before an all-male jury violated her rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. A Florida statute provides, in substance, that no woman shall be taken for jury service unless she volunteers for it.

Held: The Florida statute is not unconstitutional on its face or as applied in this case. Pp. 368 U. S. 58-69.

(a) The right to an impartially selected jury assured by the Fourteenth Amendment does not entitle one accused of crime to a jury tailored to the circumstances of the particular case. It requires only that the jury be indiscriminately drawn from among those in the community eligible for jury service, untrammelled by any arbitrary and systematic exclusions. Pp. 368 U. S. 58-59.

(b) The Florida statute is not unconstitutional on its face, since it is not constitutionally impermissible for a State to conclude that a woman should be relieved from jury service unless she herself determines that such service is consistent with her own special responsibilities. Pp. 368 U. S. 59-65.

(c) It cannot be said that the statute is unconstitutional as applied in this case, since there is no substantial evidence in the record that Florida has arbitrarily undertaken to exclude women from jury service. Pp. 368 U. S. 65-69.

119 So.2d 691, affirmed

Page 368 U. S. 58

MR. JUSTICE HARLAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Appellant, a woman, has been convicted in Hillsborough County, Florida, of second degree murder of her husband. On this appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 1257(2) from the Florida Supreme Court's affirmance of the judgment of conviction, 119 So.2d 691, we noted probable jurisdiction, 364 U.S. 930, to consider appellant's claim that her trial before an all-male jury violated rights assured by the Fourteenth Amendment. The claim is that such jury was the product of a state jury statute which works an unconstitutional exclusion of women from jury service.

The jury law primarily in question is Fla.Stat., 1959, § 40.01(1). This Act, which requires that grand and petit jurors be taken from "male and female" citizens of the State possessed of certain qualifications, [Footnote 1] contains the following proviso:

"provided, however, that the name of no female person shall be taken for jury service unless said person has registered with the clerk of the circuit court her desire to be placed on the jury list."

Showing that, since the enactment of the statute, only a minimal number of women have so registered, appellant challenges the constitutionality of the statute both on its face and as applied in this case. For reasons now to follow we decide that both contentions must be rejected.

At the core of appellant's argument is the claim that the nature of the crime of which she was convicted peculiarly demanded the inclusion of persons of her own sex on the jury. She was charged with killing her husband by assaulting him with a baseball bat. An information

Page 368 U. S. 59

was filed against her under Fla.Stat., 1959, § 782.04, which punishes as murder in the second degree

"any act imminently dangerous to another, and evincing a depraved mind regardless of human life, although without any premeditated design to effect the death of any particular individual. . . ."

As described by the Florida Supreme Court, the affair occurred in the context of a marital upheaval involving, among other things, the suspected infidelity of appellant's husband, and culminating in the husband's final rejection of his wife's efforts at reconciliation. It is claimed, in substance, that women jurors would have been more understanding or compassionate than men in assessing the quality of appellant's act and her defense of "temporary insanity." No claim is made that the jury as constituted was otherwise afflicted by any elements of supposed unfairness. Cf. Irvin v. Dowd,366 U. S. 717.

Of course, these premises misconceive the scope of the right to an impartially selected jury assured by the Fourteenth Amendment. That right does not entitle one accused of crime to a jury tailored to the circumstances of the particular case, whether relating to the sex or other condition of the defendant, or to the nature of the charges to be tried. It requires only that the jury be indiscriminately drawn from among those eligible in the community for jury service, untrammelled by any arbitrary and systematic exclusions. See Fay v. New York,332 U. S. 261, 332 U. S. 284-285, and the cases cited therein. The result of this appeal must therefore depend on whether such an exclusion of women from jury service has been shown.


We address ourselves first to appellant's challenge to the statute on its face.

Several observations should initially be made. We, of course, recognize that the Fourteenth Amendment reaches

Page 368 U. S. 60

not only arbitrary class exclusions from jury service based on race or color, but also all other exclusions which "single out" any class of persons "for different treatment not based on some reasonable classification." Hernandez v. Texas,347 U. S. 475, 347 U. S. 478. We need not, however, accept appellant's invitation to canvass in this case the continuing validity of this Court's dictum in Strauder v. West Virginia,100 U. S. 303, 100 U. S. 310, to the effect that a State may constitutionally "confine" jury duty "to males." This constitutional proposition has gone unquestioned for more than eighty years in the decisions of the Court, see Fay v. New York, supra, at 332 U. S. 289-290, and had been reflected, until 1957, in congressional policy respecting jury service in the federal courts themselves. [Footnote 2] Even were it to be assumed that this question is still open to debate, the present case tenders narrower issues.

Manifestly, Florida's § 40.01(1) does not purport to exclude women from state jury service. Rather, the statute "gives to women the privilege to serve, but does not impose service as a duty." Fay v. New York, supra, at 332 U. S. 277. It accords women an absolute exemption from jury service unless they expressly waive that privilege.

Page 368 U. S. 61

This is not to say, however, that what in form may be only an exemption of a particular class of persons can in no circumstances be regarded as an exclusion of that class. Where, as here, an exemption of a class in the community is asserted to be in substance an exclusionary device, the relevant inquiry is whether the exemption itself is based on some reasonable classification and whether the manner in which it is exercisable rests on some rational foundation.

In the selection of jurors, Florida has differentiated between men and women in two respects. It has given women an absolute exemption from jury duty based solely on their sex, no similar exemption obtaining as to men. [Footnote 3] And it has provided for its effectuation in a manner less onerous than that governing exemptions exercisable by men: women are not to be put on the jury list unless they have voluntarily registered for such service; men, on the other hand, even if entitled to an exemption, are to be included on the list unless they have filed a written claim of exemption as provided by law. [Footnote 4] Fla.Stat., 1959, § 40.10.

In neither respect can we conclude that Florida's statute is not "based on some reasonable classification," and that it is thus infected with unconstitutionality. Despite the enlightened emancipation of women from the restrictions

Page 368 U. S. 62

and protections of bygone years, and their entry into many parts of community life formerly considered to be reserved to men, woman is still regarded as the center of home and family life. We cannot say that it is constitutionally impermissible for a State, acting in pursuit of the general welfare, to conclude that a woman should be relieved from the civic duty of jury service unless she herself determines that such service is consistent with her own special responsibilities.

Florida is not alone in so concluding. Women are now eligible for jury service in all but three States of the Union. [Footnote 5] Of the forty-seven States where women are eligible, seventeen besides Florida, as well as the District of Columbia, have accorded women an absolute exemption based solely on their sex, exercisable in one form or another. [Footnote 6] In two of these States, as in Florida, the

Page 368 U. S. 63

exemption is automatic, unless a woman volunteers for such service. [Footnote 7] It is true, of course, that Florida could have limited the exemption, as some other States have done, only to women who have family responsibilities. [Footnote 8] But we cannot regard it as irrational for a state legislature to consider preferable a broad exemption, whether born of the State's historic public policy or of a determination that it would not be administratively feasible to decide in each individual instance whether the family responsibilities of a prospective female juror were serious enough to warrant an exemption

Page 368 U. S. 64

Likewise, we cannot say that Florida could not reasonably conclude that full effectuation of this exemption made it desirable to relieve women of the necessity of affirmatively claiming it, while at the same time requiring of men an assertion of the exemptions available to them. Moreover, from the standpoint of its own administrative concerns, the State might well consider that it was

"impractical to compel large numbers of women, who have an absolute exemption, to come to the clerk's office for examination, since they so generally assert their exemption."

Fay v. New York, supra at 332 U. S. 277; compare 28 U.S.C. § 1862; H.R.Rep. No. 308, 80th Cong., 1st Sess. A156 (1947). [Footnote 9]

Appellant argues that whatever may have been the design of this Florida enactment, the statute, in practical operation, results in an exclusion of women from jury service, because women, like men, can be expected to be available for jury service only under compulsion. In this connection, she points out that, by 1957, when this trial took place, only some 220 women out of approximately 46,000 registered female voters in Hillsborough County -- constituting about 40 percent of the total voting population of that county [Footnote 10] -- had volunteered for jury duty since the limitation of jury service to males, see Hall v. Florida, 136 Fla. 644, 662-665, 187 So. 392, 400-401, was removed by § 40.01(1) in 1949. Fla.Laws 1949, c. 25, 126

Page 368 U. S. 65

This argument, however, is surely beside the point. Given the reasonableness of the classification involved in § 40.01(1), the relative paucity of women jurors does not carry the constitutional consequence appellant would have it bear. "Circumstances or chance may well dictate that no persons in a certain class will serve on a particular jury or during some particular period." Hernandez v. Texas, supra, at 347 U. S. 482.

We cannot hold this statute, as written, offensive to the Fourteenth Amendment.


Appellant's attack on the statute as applied in this case fares no better.

In the year here relevant Fla.Stat., 1955, § 40.10, in conjunction with § 40.02, required the jury commissioners, with the aid of the local circuit court judges and clerk, to compile annually a jury list of 10,000 inhabitants qualified to be jurors. In 1957, the existing Hillsborough County list had become exhausted to the extent of some 3,000 jurors. The new list was constructed by taking over from the old list the remaining some 7,000 jurors, including 10 women, and adding some 3,000 new male jurors to build up the list to the requisite 10,000. At the time, some 220 women had registered for jury duty in this county, including those taken over from the earlier list.

The representative of the circuit court clerk's office, a woman, who actually made up the list, testified as follows as to her reason for not adding others of the 220 "registered" women to the 1957 list:

"Well, the reason I placed ten is I went back two or three, four years, and noticed how many women they had put on before, and I put on approximately the same number."

She further testified:

"Mr. Lockhart [one of the jury commissioners] told me at one time to go back approximately two or three years to get the names because they were recent women that had signed up, because, in this book [the female juror

Page 368 U. S. 66

register], there are no dates at the beginning of it, so we can't -- I don't know exactly how far back they do go, and so I just went back two or three years to get my names."

When read in light of Mr. Lockhart's testimony, printed in the margin, [Footnote 11] it is apparent that the idea was to avoid

Page 368 U. S. 67

listing women who though registered might be disqualified because of advanced age or for other reasons.

Appellant's showing falls far short of giving this procedure a sinister complexion. It is true, of course, that the proportion of women on the jury list (10) to the total of those registered for such duty (some 220) was less than 5%, and not 27% as the trial court mistakenly said and

Official Supreme Court caselaw is only found in the print version of the United States Reports. Justia caselaw is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or information linked to from this site. Please check official sources.