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Ron DeSantis expands death penalty defying Supreme Court ruling

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill on Monday allowing capital punishment on child rape convictions, despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that banned capital punishment in such cases.

“In Florida, we stand for the protection of children,” DeSantis said at a Monday press conference in Brevard County. “We think that in the worst of the worst cases, the only appropriate punishment is the ultimate punishment.”

The Republican governor, who is expected to announce a run for president in the coming weeks, has leaned into an aggressive agenda on crime and other issues to bolster support among the Republican base. 

The bill was passed by the Florida House and Senate and will become law on Oct. 1. It’s the state’s second change to the death penalty policy in recent months. In April, DeSantis signed a bill lowering the threshold of jurors needed to recommend the death penalty from 12 to eight. 

The signing goes against the 2008 Supreme Court decision preventing states from imposing the death penalty for child rape when the crime does not involve a child’s death. The court ruled that applying the death penalty in such cases would amount to “cruel and unusual punishment.

DeSantis, however, said he thinks the conservative-majority Supreme Court may be willing to revisit the ruling.

“We think that decision was wrong,” he said. “This bill sets up a procedure to be able to challenge that precedent.”

Aaron Wayt, who represents the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, spoke against the legislation, saying, “Courtrooms must be a place for justice and not vengeance.” Wayt also said it could negatively affect victims of sex crimes.

“This bill invites a longer, costlier process that the victim and their family will endure,” said Wayt.

DeSantis said he believes the Supreme Court has “unjustly shielded child rapists from the death penalty.”

This bill is among a few the governor approved on Monday, labeling them “law and order” measures. One initiative makes it a first-degree felony to possess, sell or manufacture the drug fentanyl and other controlled substances “that resemble candy,” and it makes people who traffic such substances eligible for a life sentence.

“While crime is spiraling out of control in many 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 in a tweet.

DeSantis, a potential contender for the GOP presidential primary, has said he will make a decision on whether to launch a bid for the 2024 election once the state’s legislative session ends.


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