Brevard County, FL – Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed off on legislation on Monday reinstating the death penalty for convicted child rapists.
Under House Bill 1297, which goes into effect on Oct. 1, offenders convicted of sexual battery on a child under the age of 12 can be sentenced to death with a jury vote of at least 8-4, the Tallahassee Democrat reported.
The decision previously had to be unanimous.
Judges would have discretion to impose a sentence of either life in prison or a death sentence, according to CBS News.
If fewer than eight jurors were to vote for a death sentence, the defendant would automatically be sentenced to life in prison.
The measure had wide support in both state legislative chambers on both sides of the aisle.
Only two Republicans and three Democrats voted against the bill in the Senate, the Tallahassee Democrat reported.
“In Florida, we stand for the protection of children,” DeSantis said during a press conference in Brevard County on Monday. “We think that in the worst of the worst cases the only appropriate punishment is the ultimate punishment.”
The new state law conflicts with a 2008 U.S. Supreme Court decision that determined the death penalty qualified as “cruel and unusual punishment” in cases where an offender rapes a child, but doesn’t kill them, the Tallahassee Democrat reported.
The bill’s sponsors have acknowledged this conflict and said they hope the measure will pave the way for the Florida and U.S. Supreme courts to reconsider the previous decision, CBS News reported.
DeSantis agreed and noted the U.S. Supreme Court now has a conservative majority and may be willing to reexamine the previous ruling, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.
“We think that decision was wrong,” the governor said during the press conference on Monday. “This bill sets up a procedure to be able to challenge that precedent.”
DeSantis noted in a press release that he also signed off on two other criminal justice-related measures on Monday.
Today, I signed legislation that will:
– Makes child rapists eligible for the death penalty with the minimum sentence of life in prison without parole
– Impose additional penalties on fentanyl and drug-related crimes targeted at children
– Protect Floridians from disastrous… pic.twitter.com/sO1mkcfm0a
— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) May 1, 2023
One bill limits “who is eligible for release” prior to their initial court appearance and “ensures a judge is the ultimate decision maker when it comes to detention,” the governor said.
It also “Petitions the Florida Supreme Court to establish a uniform bond schedule that all state courts must follow,” he said.
The other bill “makes it a first-degree felony to possess, sell, or manufacture fentanyl and other controlled substances that resemble candy,” DeSantis wrote.
Dealers who target children with such substances will now be “eligible for a life sentence,” with a minimum sentence of 25 years and a $1 million fine, he added.
“While crime is spiraling out of control in many other parts of this country, Florida is enacting policies that are tough on crime and as a result, Florida is at a 50-year crime low,” DeSantis said.