Early this month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that would allow a person convicted of the rape of a minor to be sentenced to death. The bill establishes a minimum sentence of life without parole.
The new law defies the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Kennedy v. Louisiana (2008), which found that “the Eighth Amendment categorically rules out the death penalty in even the most extreme cases of child rape” when “the crime did not result, and was not intended to result, in death of the victim” because it violates the Cruel and Unusual Punishment clause.
DeSantis is betting that the Republican conservative majority on the Supreme Court will overturn Kennedy, a 5-4 decision written for the majority by then-Justice Anthony Kennedy. Three of the four dissenters in Kennedy, Samuel Alito, John Roberts, and Clarence Thomas, are still on the Court and have been joined by conservative justices Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh, and Neil Gorsuch.
This bill comes on the heels of another death penalty-expanding bill DeSantis signed into law last month that allows juries to recommend a death sentence with an 8-4 vote, the lowest threshold in the U.S.
That legislation was spurred by the frustration felt by DeSantis and Republican lawmakers over the Parkland shooting verdict last year. In that case, Nikolas Cruz was convicted of killing 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018. He was sentenced to life without parole after the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict, as was then required. When DeSantis signed the bill into law, surrounded by lawmakers and the parents of Parkland victims.
“Once a defendant in a capital case is found guilty by a unanimous jury, one juror should not be able to veto a capital sentence,” De Santis said at the bill signing.
The new law rescinds an amendment the state legislature added to its death penalty bill in 2017, requiring a unanimous jury to recommend death.