Florida Supreme Court: Major death penalty ruling will not be revisted

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday refused to reconsider a ruling that said unanimous jury recommendations are not necessary before death sentences can be imposed.

The court, in a 4-1 decision, rejected a request for a rehearing by attorneys for Death Row inmate Mark Anthony Poole. As is common, the decision did not explain the court’s reasoning.

Chief Justice Charles Canady and justices Ricky Polston, Alan Lawson and Carlos Muniz were in the majority, while Justice Jorge Labarga supported granting a rehearing. The Supreme Court issued a ruling in January that said justices “got it wrong” in 2016 when they required changes such as unanimous jury recommendations on death sentences.

The January decision reversing course reinstated a death sentence for Poole, who was convicted in Polk County in the 2001 first-degree murder of Noah Scott, the attempted murder and sexual battery of Loretta White, armed burglary and armed robbery.

A jury in 2011 recommended by a vote of 11-1 that Poole should be sentenced to death --- a sentence that a judge imposed. But based on the Florida Supreme Court’s 2016 decision, Poole’s death sentence was later vacated because of the lack of a unanimous jury recommendation.

In a filing in February opposing the request for a rehearing at the Supreme Court, Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office argued that unanimous jury recommendations are not required under the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment, which bars cruel and unusual punishment.

The decisions this year came after a long, complicated series of issues that stemmed from a January 2016 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in a case dubbed Hurst v. Florida. That ruling found the state’s death-penalty system was unconstitutional because it gave too much authority to judges, instead of juries, in imposing death sentences.

The Florida Supreme Court in October 2016 interpreted and applied the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, including requiring unanimous jury recommendations.

In 2017, the Legislature passed a law that required unanimous jury recommendations as it complied with the state Supreme Court ruling. That law remains in place, 

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.