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Florida Supreme Court rules judges may impose death penalty without unanimous jury
WilliamCho / Pixabay
Florida Supreme Court rules judges may impose death penalty without unanimous jury

The Florida Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that judges may impose the death penalty without the unanimous vote of the jurors, overturning the court’s 2016 holding that the Eighth Amendment requires a unanimous jury recommendation of death.

The State of Florida appealed to the Florida Supreme Court following a postconviction order that set aside Mark Anthony Poole’s 2011 death sentence, which became final in 2015.

In 2005, Poole was found guilty of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, armed burglary, sexual battery, and armed robbery.  In a unanimous vote, the jury recommended death, which allowed the trial court to consider the death sentence under Florida Statute section 921.141. The trial court then sentenced Poole to death.

Poole directly appealed, and the Florida Supreme Court subsequently vacated Poole’s sentence of death and remanded for a new penalty phase. Following the new penalty phase, the jury recommended
death by a vote of eleven to one. The trial court again sentenced Poole to death in 2011, which was upheld by the Florida Supreme Court in 204. The trial court then entered an interim order vacating Poole’s death sentence pursuant to Hurst v. State, finding a harmful error because the jury’s death recommendation was not unanimous.

On Thursday, the court overturned its holding in Hurst v. State, a 2016 case in which the Florida Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment requires a unanimous jury recommendation of death. The court decided that neither Hurst, nor the Sixth or Eighth Amendment, nor the Florida Constitution mandates that the jury unanimously recommend a death sentence.

The Florida Supreme Court still held that jury is still required to
unanimously find the existence of a statutory aggravating circumstance.