tom@tomregnierappeals.com | 786-319-4810

Revising Florida’s Constitution

CRC members in Boca Raton

On Friday, April 7, I spoke for two minutes at a public hearing of Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) in Boca Raton. I highly recommend participation in the CRC process, a once-every-twenty-year process, and a process that is unique to Florida. I spoke three times before the Florida CRC that convened in 1997 to 1998. I was among many people who wanted to reform the unfair ballot access laws that Florida had at the time (worst in the free world!). We were successful and the CRC recommended a ballot access revision, which the voters overwhelmingly approved in 1998.[1]

CRC Hearing, Boca Raton, April 7, 2017

On Friday, I spoke to the CRC about a jury’s right to acquit a criminal defendant in spite of the law and the facts if the jury believes that convicting him would be an injustice.[2] I pointed out that the Florida Standard Jury Instructions in criminal cases tell jurors: “It is important that you follow the law spelled out in these instructions in deciding your verdict. There are no other laws that apply to this case. Even if you do not like the laws that must be applied, you must use them.”

This instruction is in sharp contrast to the words of the founders of our nation. For example, John Adams said, “It is not only [the juror’s] right but his duty . . . to find the verdict according to his own best understanding, judgment, and conscience, though in direct opposition to the direction of the court.”

Thomas Jefferson said, “if the question relate to any point of public liberty . . . the jury undertake to decide both law and fact.”

Alexander Hamilton said, “the jury . . . are intrusted with the power of deciding both law and fact.” And John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the United States, instructed the jury in one of the few trials ever held in the U.S. Supreme Court that the jury could decide both the law and the facts. I suggested that Article I, section 22 of the Florida constitution be amended to add that a jury shall have the right to decide both the law and the facts in a criminal case.

Whether the 37-member CRC follows my suggestion remains to be seen. But whatever happens, the CRC wants to hear what Floridians are thinking. So far, they have held hearings in Orlando, Miami, and Boca Raton, and hundreds of people showed up to speak. The next scheduled hearing will be in Tallahassee on April 12. I expect that the CRC will schedule many more hearings around the state during this year and next. I will keep you posted.

My tips on speaking at CRC hearings: The time limit of two minutes per speech is strictly enforced. Be sure to practice your speech so that you are able to say it all in two minutes. Don’t waste time hemming and hawing at the beginning. I’ve seen people lose three-fourths of their speaking time before they got into their subject. Also, get there early! Speakers appear before the Commission in the order in which they sign up. If you have time, stay around after your speech. It’s fascinating hearing what your fellow Floridians have to say about how our state constitution can be improved.

–Tom Regnier, April 10, 2017

[1] For some basic info about the CRC and what it does, see http://www.lwvokaloosa.org/documents/CRC-brochure.pdf

[2] My law review article on this subject, “Restoring the Founders’ Ideal of the Independent Jury in Criminal Cases” (2011), is available at https://sites.google.com/site/thomasregnier/home/juryindependence.

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Tom Regnier Appeals, P.A.

tom@tomregnierappeals.com | 786-319-4810
1580 Sawgrass Corporate Parkway, Suite 130
Sunrise, FL 33323

Florida Bar Number: 660000