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Hoyt v. Florida


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368 U.S. 57 (1961), argued 19 Oct. 1961, decided 12 Mar. 1961 by vote of 9 to o; Harlan for the Court, Warren (with Black and Douglas) concurring. Gwendolyn Hoyt killed her husband with a baseball bat during a marital dispute over his adultery. She had offered to forgive and take him back, but his refusal provoked the homocide. She pleaded “temporary insanity” and was convicted of second-degree murder by an all-male jury.

Florida law provided that no female could serve on a jury unless she had specifically requested to be put on the jury list. Because men did not have to make these efforts, the law naturally produced a disproportionate number of male to female jurors, which resulted in many all-male juries. (Of ten thousand persons on her local jury list of eligibles, only ten were women.) Hoyt claimed that this statute denied her equal protection of the law because women jurors would have been more empathetic than men in assessing her defense of temporary insanity.

The majority rejected her claim on the grounds that Florida's exemption of women from jury duty was not arbitrary. Rather, it was a reasonable accommodation of community beliefs that women's social role was to serve family life in the home. The concurrence reasoned simply that Florida was making a good faith effort to let those women who wanted to do so serve on juries. Both groups ignored the implication of Ballard v. U.S. (1946) that women need to be included if juries are to represent a fair cross-section of the community. Hoyt was effectively overruled by Taylor v. Louisiana (1975).

Leslie Friedman Goldstein

Subjects: Law.


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