TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA — Florida has proposed a staggering four bills pertaining to expanding the death penalty, with the latest one designed to put child rapists to death.
SB 1342, introduced by Sen. Jonathan Martin (R-Fort Myers), would allow the death penalty for the rape of children under 12. Under current law, only individuals convicted of murder are eligible for capital punishment.
“I hope this bill tells everyone in every other state, toughen your laws, because all the sex predators in Florida are coming to your state,” Sen. Martin said. “Because here, we’re going to kill you if you touch our little kids.”
“THIS BILL IS ABOUT BEING PRO-CHILDREN”
Ron Book, the father of Sen. Lauren Book (D-Broward), delivered a moving speech in favor of the legislation, stating: “this bill deals with crimes that are so heinous, so violent, so horrific, we’re talking about children under the age of 12.”
“Ninety percent of these crimes go unreported. Ninety-five percent are committed by someone the victim knows, loves, and trusts. All of us claim to be pro-children. All of us claim to be pro-family. This bill is about being pro-children. The average predator commits 117 separate offenses before they get caught,” he continued, passionately speaking on behalf of his daughter, who was a victim of sexual assault from the ages of 11 to 16.
FEARS OF UNCONSTITUTIONALITY
SB 1342 garnered a unanimously bipartisan backing, though with some hesitation as to the constitutionality of the bill.
In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled in Kennedy v. Louisiana that the death penalty for a child rapist would be cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment.
Sen. Jennifer Bradley (R-Fleming Island) referenced U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s dissenting opinion in the case, and his requirement for strict aggravating factors for a child rapist to receive the death penalty. This included multiple rapes, the length of the rape, and how many victims were involved.
Sen. Martin’s aggravating factors include the use of a firearm and financial motivation, leading to concerns that the Supreme Court may strike down this bill for its smaller aggravating factors.
Sen. Martin explained, “I’m a strong believer in stare decisis [the doctrine of precedent] but I also know that throughout history, the Supreme Court has reversed itself. I hope this never gets to the Supreme Court. Because if it does, that means that a kid was assaulted, sexually, while they were less than 12 years old.”
Ron Book responded to worries about the Kennedy case, saying, “That Kennedy case was one of the grossest, most disgusting, most despicable. The stepfather in that case did so much damage to that little girl that her insides were ripped out.”
He referred to the horrific circumstances of the case, pointing out that the current precedent is founded on a brutal child rapist escaping the death penalty.
STRICTEST DEATH PENALTY REACH IN THE NATION
The bill further goes against precedent, providing for only eight jurors – not a unanimous decision under current law – to sentence the accused to death. This piggybacks off another bill, SB 450, that is also moving through the Senate this year. SB 450 explicitly changes the law to allow a death penalty recommendation from only eight out of 12 jurors.
SB 450 has an identical bill in the House, HB 555, while SB 1342 has a similar bill in the House, HB 1297, demonstrating Florida’s huge push this session toward an expanded death penalty. Together, these bills would make Florida the strictest capital punishment state in the nation.
After SB 1342’s unanimous passing, it will now head to the Committee on the Judiciary.