Florida lawmakers are preparing to pass a measure permitting the death penalty for pedophiles who sexually abuse young children.
The House will consider its version of the bill (HB 1297) after (SB 1342) was cleared on Tuesday by the Rules Committee, as it readies for the bill to be presented to the full Senate.
For decades, the U.S. Supreme Court and Florida Supreme Court rulings have prohibited the execution of child rapists and sexual abuse cases.
The last time someone was executed for a non-murder offense in the U.S. was 1964, according to a Senate staff analysis.
However, the House and Senate bills argue that a Florida Supreme Court case in1981 and a U.S. Supreme Court case in 2088 were both “wrongly decided.”
The Senate version declared the cases represent an “egregious infringement of the state’s power to punish the most heinous of crimes.”
The bill’s sponsor, former prosecutor turned Republican state senator Jonathan Martin, said the legislation would allow for “constitutional boundaries by providing a sentencing procedure for those heinous crimes.”
“If an individual rapes an 11-year-old, a 10-year-old, a 2-year-old or a 5-year-old, they should be subject to the death penalty,” Martin said Tuesday.
As Red State reports:
The legislation inevitably has drawn criticism, with Aaron Wyat of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers pointing out that although people want “vengeance” against pedophiles, the death penalty would represent an overturning of decades of legal precedent.
“This bill invites a longer, costlier (legal) process for the victim and their family that they will endure,” Wayt said.
“While this crime, anyone convicted of it is vile, heinous, the Constitution itself, the case law, the Supreme Court demands a maximum of life in prison. And so while it’s not the vengeance we all want, it’s the justice that the Constitution demands,” Wayt added.
Meanwhile, left-leaning Slate Magazine argued a “sentence of life without parole is a harsh and severe punishment,” even for pedophiles.
“Instead of spending millions of dollars to possibly change long-standing precedent, Florida’s resources are much better spent trying to protect our children from the abuse in the first place and ensuring survivors have access to mental health treatment and the proper support following the offense,” the magazine wrote.
Despite the media pushback, the bill has attracted support from some Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, who suffered sexual abuse as a child and founded the advocacy organization Lauren’s Kids.
Book says, “there is no statute of limitations” for the child victims of this kind of sexual abuse.
“There’s no statute of limitations that a victim suffers. This is a life sentence that is handed down to young children,” Book said.
“I still deal with the very real lasting effects of this crime. It never goes away,” she said, adding, “I don’t get a chance to make it stop.”
The proposed legislation will only impose the death penalty if eight out of 12 jurors recommend it.
While defendants may face a death sentence, it would be down to the judge’s discretion if the death penalty or life imprisonment would be appropriate.
Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to sign off on this legislation after voicing support for the death penalty for pedophiles.
DeSantis also said capital punishment should be brought back for child sex offenders but noted that it would require the Supreme Court to reverse its decision on using the death penalty.
“They said the Constitution does not allow capital punishment for anything short of a homicide,” DeSantis began.
“The problem with that you have some of these sex predators that will abuse these very very young children, do it habitually, and I’m just thinking to myself, you’re ruining those kids’ lives– those are innocent kids,” he added.