Landmark cases before the Court
Several cases stand out in Florida Supreme Court history as landmark cases in Florida law.
The Right to Trial by Jury / Steamboat Magnolia Case
In 1848, just three years after statehood, the Court struck down a state law that allowed a trial judge to order the seizure and public sale of boats sailing the Apalachicola River system. The statute made no mention of a trial by jury. Because of debts owed by The Flint River Steam Boat Company, a trial judge ordered the sale of the steamboat Magnolia. But the order was appealed. In striking down the state law, Chief Justice Thomas Douglas noted that “the right of trial by jury has ever been cherished and preserved by our Anglo Saxon ancestors, and by the Fathers of the revolution of 1776.”
See Montgomery v. State
In 1949, Virgil Hawkins was denied admission to the University of Florida (UF) Law School solely on the basis of race. For nine years, he filed multiple petitions in the Florida Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court challenging his exclusion. Finally, his case ended up before a federal judge who agreed to order integration at UF if Hawkins would withdraw his law school application. Hawkins agreed but went on to get his law degree in Boston and was finally sworn in as a member of the Florida Bar in 1977. On May 25, 1999, the Florida Supreme Court under the leadership of then-Chief Justice Major B. Harding apologized for the misdeeds of their predecessors. Watch the Supreme Court Ceremonial Session.
Gideon v. Wainwright
In 1961, Clarence Gideon was arrested and charged with breaking and entering in Panama City. He couldn’t afford an attorney and the trial judge denied his request to have one appointed. Gideon defended himself and was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. His appeal to the Florida Supreme Court was denied. In 1963 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Gideon had a right to a court-appointed attorney, guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. At his new trial, with a lawyer, Gideon was found not guilty.
Cameras in the Courtroom
In 1977, the Florida Supreme Court ordered a one-year experiment allowing cameras in Florida’s courtrooms. A comprehensive survey of judges, attorneys, jurors, litigants, and staff indicated that little, if any, harm was caused by the presence of cameras and other electronic media equipment. So the Florida Supreme Court issued an opinion on April 12, 1979, creating what arguably was – and arguably still is – the nation’s broadest rule allowing cameras in courtroom. Cameras are always in the Florida Supreme Courtroom. That’s because in late 1997, the Florida Supreme Court, working in partnership with Florida State University, began broadcasting its oral arguments, using robotic cameras permanently installed in the courtroom and controlled remotely by Florida State staff.
Election 2000 Presidential Cases
The United States presidential election of 2000 was the 54th quadrennial presidential election. The contest was between Republican candidate George W. Bush, the incumbent governor of Texas and son of former president George H. W. Bush, and Democratic candidate Al Gore, the former Vice President. Bush narrowly won the election, with 271 electoral votes to Gore's 266 (with one elector abstaining in the official tally). The election was noteworthy for a controversy over the awarding of Florida's 25 electoral votes, the subsequent recount process in that state, and the unusual event of the winning candidate having received fewer popular votes than the runner-up.
- Oral Arguments: Nov. 20, 2000 and December 7, 2000
- Court filings: Visit the Election Web Page
- For Students and Teachers: The Election Case mock oral argument classroom materials
Terri Schiavo: Right to Die case
In February 1990, Terri Schiavo experienced a cardiac arrest that led to severe brain damage. Her husband Michael Schiavo was appointed her guardian and later sought a court order to discontinue life-prolonging procedures, which he obtained. After much post-trial litigation, the life-prolonging procedures were removed in October 2003. Nearly a week later the Legislature passed a law letting the Governor issue a one-time stay to prevent the withholding of life support for people in similar situations. He issued a stay for Terri Schaivo. Michael Schiavo sued. The trial court held the law unconstitutional, and the Second District certified the case to the Supreme Court.
- Oral Argument: August 31, 2004
- Florida Supreme Court opinion: SC04-925
- Court Filings: SC04-925 Jeb Bush v. Michael Schiavo
Cases appealed from the Florida Supreme Court to the U.S Supreme Court
with classroom materials
Anonymous Tip Case (Fourth Amendment violation)
Police in Dade County received an anonymous tip describing three youths at a bus stop, one of whom allegedly carried an illegal concealed weapon. Arriving about six minutes later, police observed three youths dressed as the anonymous tipster had described. They searched the three and found the weapon. The trial court suppressed the evidence, but the Third District Court reversed. J.L. appealed his case to the Supreme Court of Florida.
The Florida Supreme Court disagreed with the district court’s ruling and agreed with the circuit court that the police search was unreasonable and violated the Fourth Amendment. The State of Florida appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed with the Florida Supreme Court and held that by itself, an anonymous tip that a person is carrying a gun is not sufficient to justify a police officer’s stop and frisk of that person.
- Oral Argument: December 9, 1997
- Florida Supreme Court Opinion: SC90361
- U.S. Supreme Court Oral Argument with decision: Florida v. J.L.
- For Students and Teachers: The Anonymous Tip mock oral argument classroom materials
The K-9 Search Case (Fourth Amendment violation)
The Miami-Dade Police Department received an unverified "crime stoppers" tip that a home was being used to grow marijuana. Detectives, along with a trained drug detection dog, approached the front door of the home and the dog signaled that it detected the scent of narcotics. A search warrant was obtained and a search confirmed that marijuana was being grown inside the home. The homeowner was arrested and charged with trafficking cannabis. The homeowner moved to suppress the evidence seized at his home on the theory that the drug dog's sniff was an impermissible search under the Fourth Amendment and that all subsequent evidence was fruit of the poisonous tree. The trial court ruled to suppress the evidence, but the appellate court reversed, concluding that no illegal search had occurred since the officer had the right to go up to the defendant's front door and that a warrant was not necessary for the drug dog's sniff. The Florida Supreme Court reversed the appellate court's decision and concluded that the dog's sniff was a substantial government intrusion into the sanctity of the home and constituted a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.
The state of Florida appealed the Florida Supreme Court's decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed with the Florida Supreme Court's decision. The Court held that the front porch of a home is part of the home itself for Fourth Amendment purposes and a search warrant is required.