Wrong Phrasing in Jury Instructions Forces Florida to Reopen more than 100 Murder Cases

Sunday, July 05, 2015
(AP Graphic)

At least 103 Florida murder and attempted murder cases have been reopened, often resulting in lighter sentences, because of bad wording in the jury instructions, according to an investigation by the Tampa Bay Times.


After the state in 1994 changed the wording in jury instructions for murder trials, jurors were told they could convict someone of “manslaughter by act” only if the accused “intentionally caused the death of” the victim. The wording “intentionally caused the death” was problematic because contrary to Florida law, it said jurors could find defendants guilty of manslaughter only if they actually intended to kill their victims.


“So the faulty jury instructions effectively made it harder to convict someone of manslaughter than of the much more serious crime of second-degree murder, which can carry a life sentence,” the Times’ Curtis Krueger reported.


Among the more than 100 cases affected by the jury instructions, dozens of murderers received new trials or the chance to make plea agreements.


Krueger found that 31 of the defendants received shorter prison sentences, “sometimes dramatically shorter.” For example, an Orlando man, Jarvis Coleman, convicted of killing a longtime friend and who was sentenced to life in prison instead got 18 years.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Tampa Bay Times Exclusive: Faulty Jury Instructions Force Do-Overs in More Than 100 Murder and Attempted Murder Cases (by Curtis Krueger, Tampa Bay Times)


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