The death penalty for pedophiles who sexually abuse children under the age of 12 is expected to be approved by Florida lawmakers, a decision that is certain to spark legal challenges over the validity of the law.
The Senate version (SB 1342) was approved by the Rules Committee on Tuesday, opening the way for it to be brought to the full Senate. The House will discuss its version of the bill (HB 1297) on Thursday.
The proposed measure contravenes long-standing judgements of the US Supreme Court and the Florida Supreme Court, which forbade the execution of defendants in rape and sexual abuse cases. According to a Senate staff investigation, the last time a person was executed in the US for a crime other than murder was in 1964.
The House and Senate bills criticize two Supreme Court decisions as being “wrongly decided,” claiming that they were made in 1981 by the Florida Supreme Court and 2008 by the US Supreme Court, respectively. The Senate version claims that these decisions represent a “egregious infringement of the states’ power to punish the most heinous of crimes.”
The bill’s Republican state lawmaker and former prosecutor Jonathan Martin claimed it would allow for “constitutional boundaries by providing a sentencing procedure for those heinous crimes.”
Martin said on Tuesday after the Rules Committee passed the bill, “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.”
Although many individuals seek “vengeance” against pedophiles, Aaron Wyat of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers noted that the death sentence would constitute a reversal of decades of judicial history. The law has unavoidably received criticism.
However, several Democrats have come out in favor of the legislation. According to Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat who experienced sexual abuse as a youngster and later created the advocacy group Lauren’s Kids, “there is no statute of limitations” for those who have experienced this type of abuse.
The death sentence would only be used under the proposed law if eight out of the jury’s twelve members recommended it. Judges will have the option of either the death penalty or life in prison, even though defendants may face the death penalty. Life in prison will be the penalty if less than eight jurors agree with the death penalty.
The death sentence is now only enforceable in murder cases if the jury recommends it unanimously. But Congress could change this rule to allow executions if eight out of the twelve jurors agree. This amendment has already been approved by the Senate, and on Thursday, the House will discuss it.