Hoyt v. Florida

LOCATION: Vilage of Kake

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)

CITATION: 368 US 57 (1961)
ARGUED: Oct 19, 1961
DECIDED: Nov 20, 1961

Facts of the case

A Florida statute automatically exempted women from jury duty and did not place women on jury lists. Women could, however, volunteer and register for jury duty. After an all-male jury convicted Mrs. Hoyt for murdering her husband, she appealed the decision to the Florida Supreme Court. The Florida Court upheld the conviction.


Did the Florida statute violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

Media for Hoyt v. Florida

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 19, 1961 in Hoyt v. Florida

Earl Warren:

Number 31, Gwendolyn Hoyt, Appellant, versus Florida.

Mr. Ehrmann.

Herbert B. Ehrmann:

May it please the Court.

So far as I know, this is the first case before this Court involving the issue as to whether a woman may be tried by an all-male jury and convicted under a statute which virtually excludes women and an administration of the statute which almost makes certain that there will be no women.

We meet that issue frontally in this case.

Gwendolyn Hoyt was tried on information in the Superior Court or in the court of criminal record of Hillsborough County, Florida.

She was charged with killing her husband and the information stated that she was to be tried for second degree murder.

A second degree murder in the State of Florida is defined as follows: “When perpetrated by an 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, it shall be murder in a second degree and shall be punished by imprisonment in the state of prison for life or for any number of years not less than 20 years.”

In other words, the distinction of a second degree murder from manslaughter was a state of mind.

Mrs. Hoyt pleaded not guilty and not guilty by reason of temporary insanity.

The jury could have found her not guilty, could have found her guilty of manslaughter or could have found that she was guilty of second degree murder having a depraved mind.

Florida counsel who tried the case, and by the way he is the courtroom today, challenged the jury panel of approximately 60 male jurors with a motion to quash.

He challenged it on two grounds.

First, that the statute under which the jury was selected was a denial of equal protection and due process.

And that the method of administering the statute by the jury commissioners was also a denial of equal protection and due process.

Florida is one three states which has a jury chosen under a statute which says that women are qualified to be jurors and then goes on to say that only those women who register with the clerk courts may be called.

Potter Stewart:

There are additionally three states, are they not, Mr. Ehrmann --

Herbert B. Ehrmann:

There are additionally --

Potter Stewart:

-- which should -- do not --

Herbert B. Ehrmann:

-- three states which exclude women entirely.

Potter Stewart:

Right, right.

Herbert B. Ehrmann:

So that there are six states today, which either exclude women entirely or provide that they must volunteer.

Now what happened in Florida is apparently what happens -- what has happened in states -- other states where they had this type of statute, we have cited in -- on the brief the reference to various authorities, mainly that where women have to volunteer for jury service there’s practically no pool out of which women can be drawn.

It happened in New York and it's happened in other jurisdictions because apparently the -- to take the initiative and volunteer for jury service is an obstacle.

One wonders how many men would be available if they had to volunteer.

Felix Frankfurter:

One of the argument as to women suffrage was that women would be more aggressive or at least more alert (Inaudible) than men.

Herbert B. Ehrmann:


Despite the fact that I shall argue that women and men are very different, they have both actuated by the same impulses on many occasions when one is to invite themselves to public service.

Felix Frankfurter:

Don't stress that too hard.

Herbert B. Ehrmann: