Williams v. Florida

LOCATION: Metropolitan Dade County Justice Building

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1970-1971)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 399 US 78 (1970)
ARGUED: Mar 04, 1970
DECIDED: Jun 22, 1970

Facts of the case

In 1967, the state of Florida passed legislation to allow six-member juries in criminal cases. Johnny Williams was tried and convicted for robbery by such a jury. Williams, lost in a Florida appellate court; he appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.


Did a trial by jury of less than 12 persons violate the Sixth Amendment?

Media for Williams v. Florida

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 04, 1970 in Williams v. Florida

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments in Number 927, Williams against the State of Florida.

Mr. Kanner you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Richard Kanner:

Thank you Mr. Chief Justice, and may I please the Court.

Known as this case involves the validity of the Florida procedural requiring the defendant in a criminal case to on proper notice to give the prosecuting attorney the names and addresses of any alibi witnesses which the defendant might use.

Your Honors, the case also involves the validity of Florida six-men criminal trial jury.

The facts are not in the list of dispute, they are reflected both in my brief and in the state's brief without any dispute.

I will not dwell on them here other than to note the state apparently acknowledges that the questions were properly raised and preserved below and that the state apparently acknowledges now that to the Fifth and Sixth Amendments applied to the state.

Your Honors, I will discuss the interpretation of the terms witness, compulsion and against himself in discussing the Fifth Amendment right.

And I will also discuss reasons why Your Honors in my opinion the number 12 is fundamental to the jury system in this country.

Warren E. Burger:

In the State of Florida, does the statute require the prosecution to furnish this to its witnesses?

Richard Kanner:

Your Honor we have a procedural rule which is the same affect as a statute which when I offer to disclose all of my witnesses, the state is then required to disclose all of their witnesses.

Potter Stewart:

It's conditional?

Richard Kanner:

It is conditionally Your Honor on that I have.

Potter Stewart:

On defense counsel has been making that offer?

Richard Kanner:

Yes sir Your Honor.

We have another statute that is not conditional Your Honor that the state without any conditional on my part must disclose the name of their witness upon whom the information is based as distinguished from their witnesses on the case.

Potter Stewart:

That would be the chief prosecuting witness, if he were the victim of the offense presumably?

Richard Kanner:

Presumably yes sir.

Warren E. Burger:

But you proceed only by information and the Florida not by indictment at all?M

Richard Kanner:

Your Honor, the statutes in Florida provide for indictment on capital cases.

On non capital cases Your Honor the prosecuting officials have the right to proceed by either information or at least has been in my experience in solitary cases, even in misdemeanors sometimes that they are proceeded on by indictment but this is strictly up to the prosecuting authorities.

Your Honors, the Fifth Amendment is historically simple.

No person shall be compelled to be a witness against himself.

Your Honors, whatever this prohibition means and I'm going to get to this in a minute.

This prohibition Your Honor is utterly and completely without qualification or exemption, absolutely.

This prohibition, the Fifth Amendment is absolutely, positively never ever, ever subject to competing public interest regardless of how vast this public interest might take.

Warren E. Burger:

Are you talking about it now on the context to the --

Richard Kanner:


Warren E. Burger:

Well, I am speaking of the defendant himself when you say it's absolute and subject to no qualifications, do you mean that no one can make him take the stand under oath and testify or not under oath and testify?

Richard Kanner:

I mean Mr. Chief Justice, the Fifth Amendment says this, the cases of this Court I think of which I've cited in my brief.