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Get the latest coverage of the 2023 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

Lawmakers propose allowing the death penalty for cases involving rape of a child

The Senate version of the bill was filed by Sen. Jonathan Martin, R-Fort Myers. The legislation was proposed a few weeks after Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state would explore ways to have the death penalty for people who rape children.
Facebook/Sen. Jonathan Martin
The Senate version of the bill was filed by Sen. Jonathan Martin, R-Fort Myers. The legislation was proposed a few weeks after Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state would explore ways to have the death penalty for people who rape children.

The bills, which would require eight of 12 jurors to recommend death, conflict with longstanding decisions by the U.S. and Florida Supreme Courts that bar capital punishment in such cases.

Republican lawmakers on Wednesday filed proposals that seek to allow the death penalty for people who commit sexual batteries on children under age 12.

The proposals (SB 1342 and HB 1297), filed by Sen. Jonathan Martin, R-Fort Myers, and Rep. Jessica Baker, R-Jacksonville, conflict with longstanding decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court and the Florida Supreme Court that bar death sentences in such cases.

The bills, filed for the legislative session that will start March 7, contend that a 2008 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in a case known as Kennedy v. Louisiana and a 1981 decision by the Florida Supreme Court in a case known as Buford v. State were wrongly decided.

“Such crimes destroy the innocence of a young child and violate all standards of decency held by civilized society,” both bills said.

During a Jan. 28 appearance in Miami, Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state would explore ways to have the death penalty for people who rape children.

DeSantis said he doesn’t think the current U.S. Supreme Court would uphold a ruling that barred the death penalty in rape cases.

“They (sexual predators) will do whatever they can to satiate themselves at the expense of very, very vulnerable people,” DeSantis said. “I believe the only appropriate punishment that would be commensurate to that would be capital.”

Under the bills, eight of 12 jurors could recommend death sentences in such sexual battery cases. If fewer than eight jurors recommend death, defendants would be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Lawmakers also are considering bills (SB 450 and HB 555) that would scrap a requirement that unanimous jury recommendations are needed before death sentences can be imposed in murder cases. The Senate Criminal Justice Committee will consider the Senate version of that proposal Monday.