Updated May 1, 2023 - Politics & Policy

DeSantis signs new death penalty bill, vowing Supreme Court showdown

Ron DeSantis gives remarks at the Heritage Foundation's 50th Anniversary Leadership Summit at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center.

Gov. Ron DeSantis last month at the Heritage Foundation's Leadership Summit in Maryland. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed a bill Monday allowing the state to seek the death penalty in sexual battery cases involving children younger than 12.

Why it matters: The legislation is in direct violation of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kennedy v. Louisiana, which found it unconstitutional for states to use capital punishment for a crime other than murder.

  • "The death penalty should not be expanded to instances where the victim's life was not taken," the ruling said.
  • The governor's office said DeSantis is "prepared to take this law all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to overrule" existing precedent.

Between the lines: DeSantis signed a bill last month that lowers the threshold for imposing a death sentence, allowing juries to recommend execution without a unanimous vote.

Zoom in: The legislation, which goes into effect in October, requires a minimum sentence of life in prison without parole for cases of sexual battery against young children.

  • The state will require prosecutors seeking the death penalty in these cases to identify at least two aggravating factors, including whether the defendant has a history of sexual predation or holds a custodial position over the child.
  • Cases could be resentenced if the law is later deemed unconstitutional.

Of note: The bill received bipartisan support in the Legislature, where Republicans hold supermajorities in both chambers. State Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book (D-Broward) co-sponsored it.

What they're saying: "We think that in the worst of the worst cases, the only appropriate punishment is the ultimate punishment, and so this bill sets up a procedure to be able to challenge that precedent," DeSantis said at a news conference in Titusville.

  • "In Florida, we stand for the protection of children," he added.
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