TALLAHASSEE, FL — “This bill seeks to punish and deter one of the most heinous and vile acts imaginable – that of sexual battery on a young child – a crime so monstrous and horrific that there can be no tolerance for the perpetrators in a civilized society,” the bill’s sponsor Rep. Jessica Baker (R-Duval) began.
HB 1297 would allow for the execution of adults who commit child rape, if at least eight of twelve jury members approve the sentence. If fewer than eight jurors agree, the offender would instead face life imprisonment.
Baker explained that the bill was inspired by two federal and state precedents established in court cases Buford v. State of Florida and Kennedy v. Louisiana. Judges in both the Buford state case and the Kennedy federal case issued rulings that prohibited the use of the death penalty for individuals convicted of child sexual assault. “This was wrong and we need to fix it,” Baker said.
Debate ensued amongst Democrat representatives, who pressed Baker on the legality of this bill. “Do you not think the legislature is overstepping its bounds in making this determination and that this should be left to the courts to decide?” Rep. Michale “Mike” Gottlieb (D-Broward) asked Rep. Baker.
“There is a lot of talk about what’s constitutional and what is not. But we all know throughout history that there were numerous cases that were wrongly decided and then they were overturned. The supreme court is not legally bound by its prior rulings. Sometimes the court gets it wrong,” Baker responded.
“I’D SUPPORT CASTRATION”
Rep. Yvonne Hayes Hinson (D-Alachua, Marion) opposed the bill, citing the permanence of death: “I’m a mother and a grandmother and I think these crimes are heinous. But, the supreme court of the U.S. has consistently said that in terms of state-sponsored punishments, death is different because it’s permanent. The only thing that warrants death is another death. No one doubts the severity of this crime, but it isn’t murder. If you had castration in this bill, I’d support that,” she said.
Rep. Lavon Bracy Davis (D-Orange) echoed Rep. Hinson’s sentiments: “This bill is unconstitutional. It's a well-settled law that we murder for murder. And that is not to minimize these horrific crimes or the protection of children. But I think that it’s important we be clear on when the death penalty should be imposed.”
Rep. Gottlieb added to the opposition, citing the legality of such a bill. “I can’t support this bill. I’m also a girl dad. And I have members of my family who have unfortunately been victimized. We’re allowing for the death penalty to go from unanimous to eight which is against United States and Florida case law. This is taking us down a slippery slope. What are we going to say is worthy of the death penalty next year?” he asked.
“THIS CRIME KILLS GENERATIONS”
Rep. Chase Tramont (R-Brevard, Voluisa) spoke in support of the bill: “When one does something of this magnitude to a child – the most evil of acts – they are murdering their innocence and their lives. And this is why I will be very much supporting this bill.”
He was followed by Rep. Tobin Rogers “Toby” Overdorf (R-Martin, St. Lucie) who regularly works with victims of human trafficking: “What you don’t see is the generational side of this type of crime. You're not just harming that child, you’re killing generations. You're killing the opportunity of that child to have children of their own and to procreate. So we talk about how they’re not technically killing the person. Well, you are. You’re doing something generational and harming them and their families for decades,” he argued.
Baker concluded by emphasizing the importance of this bill: “Someone who commits a crime like this, it’s demonic. This is a crime that is so horrific and so severe that it is deserving of the ultimate punishment. This decision should be left to the state, not to five unelected judges who submitted their opinion in place of the elected representatives of the people,” she said. “Our standard of decency in this state is to protect children. Let’s do that.”
HB 1297 passed along party lines and is now heading to the House floor.