Florida Lawmakers Unanimously Advance Bill Seeking Death Penalty for Pedophiles

Lorenz Duchamps
By Lorenz Duchamps
April 13, 2023US News
Florida Lawmakers Unanimously Advance Bill Seeking Death Penalty for Pedophiles
Florida's Democratic State Sen. Lauren Book at the Florida State Capitol Building in Tallahassee, Fla., on Feb. 21, 2018. (Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)

A new Florida bill allowing capital punishment for those committing sexual battery on children under 12 cleared the state’s rules committee this week and is now heading to the full Senate.

Senate Bill 1342 (pdf), a bipartisan effort by Sen. Lauren Book (D-Fla.) and Sen. Jonathan Martin (R-Fla.), cleared the Florida Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday by unanimous vote, and the state House committee is scheduled on Thursday to consider its version of the measure—House Bill 1297 (pdf).

The proposal stipulates that defendants 18 or older could only be sentenced to death based on the recommendations of at least eight of 12 jurors. If fewer than eight jurors recommend the death penalty, defendants shall be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

It also requires the jury to prove, “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the existence of at least two aggravating factors to the crime, which must be voted unanimously.

Aggravating factors include whether the perpetrator was a repeat offender, a designated sexual predator, used a firearm in the act, knowingly created the risk of death, or committed the capital felony on a victim “particularly vulnerable due to age or disability.”

The bill states that an individual committing sexual battery upon a young child destroys the innocence of this child and violates “all standards of decency held by civilized society.”

Book, who was sexually abused as a child, said in a speech during Tuesday’s committee hearing that she suffers daily from the trauma she faced decades ago, FOX 4 reported.

“There is no statute of limitations that a victim suffers,” Book said. “This is a life sentence that is handed down to young children. We’re talking about the youngest of the young in this bill. I was one of those kids.”

Aaron Wayt, also a survivor of child sexual assault, spoke out against the bill, saying: “Courtrooms must be a place for justice and not vengeance.”

‘Constitutional Fight’

If signed, the new law would directly challenge Kennedy v. Louisiana, the Supreme Court’s landmark decision that has, for more than a decade, prohibited child rapists from being eligible for the death penalty.

In 2008, the nation’s highest court ruled by a 5-4 vote that the death penalty for raping a child violated the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Then-presidential candidates from both parties quickly denounced the ruling. Sen. Barack Obama, a Democrat, said it’s wrong to prohibit a state’s ability to carry out the death penalty in child rape cases. At the same time, the former president’s then Republican-challenger, Sen. John McCain, called the ruling an “assault” on the legal system and law enforcement’s efforts “to punish these heinous felons for the most despicable crime.”

Despite the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling, no felon has been executed in the United States for non-homicidal rape since 1964.

Meanwhile, sponsors of Senate Bill 1342 have argued that the ruling “was wrongly decided” and such cases represent “an egregious infringement of the state’s power to punish the most heinous of crimes,” the bill states.

“Ultimately, if you look at the court’s makeup from 2008, it has changed significantly,” Martin said, according to Tampa Bay Times. “I think the current makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court believes that states should have more of a say in decisions like criminal justice that were originally left to the states under the U.S. Constitution.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential 2024 presidential candidate, previously signaled support for the measure and is thus expected to sign it if passed.

NTD Photo
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis waves as he speaks to police officers about protecting law and order in the Staten Island borough of New York City on Feb. 20, 2023. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

In January, the Republican governor said during a news conference in Miami that child rapists “will do whatever they can to satiate themselves at the expense of very, very, vulnerable people,” noting he disagrees with the Supreme Court’s decision.

“The problem with [the ruling] is, you have some of these sex predators that will abuse these very, very young children,” DeSantis said. “And I’m just thinking to myself, you’re ruining those kids’ lives; these are innocent kids, sometimes like six-seven-or eight-year-old kids. And so, we believe that that precedent was wrong.”

“I believe the only appropriate punishment that would be commensurate to that would be capital [punishment],” he added. “We understand that it’ll be challenged, but I think it’s right to be, for us to challenge … a decision that wasn’t well thought out, was very narrowly decided, and I don’t think would be upheld when you’re talking about some of the worst of the worst [non-homicidal rape cases].”

The U.S. Supreme Court wasn’t immediately available to comment on the matter.

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